Yesterday’s news of the planned exit of another senior healthcare officer who has helped steer Ireland’s response to Covid-19 marks another step for an official who has become an unlikely household name during the pandemic.
The move to VHI from Anne O’Connor, chief operations officer in the HSE, will leave the healthcare sector without one of its pandemic veterans.
She has been at the center of overseeing activity in hospitals and community services during the darkest times of 2020 and 2021.
It comes after the decision of Chief Physician Dr Tony Holohan taking on an academic role at Trinity College in July, and also the recent appointment of Professor Philip Nolan, who led the National Public Health Emergency Team ( Nphet) Modeling Group, as Director General of Science Foundation Ireland.
They take with them a great wealth of knowledge, but also some of the trust they built in the public at a time when sticking to restrictions was crucial.
So what does this mean for the future? This wave of Covid-19 may be slowly coming under control, but most experts expect a new variant to emerge and there will inevitably be another flare-up next winter.
Whenever there is a farewell, the dynamic changes. This will be accelerated by the move from the demobilized Nphet to a new group that is expected to include the usual top officials but also have more academic input in the fields of virology and infectious diseases.
Its role is expected to be another of guidance and supervision to inform decision-making.
Whoever succeeds Dr. Holohan will continue to be a key figure in guiding our response to the pandemic. How much weight her “public health advice” – something ministers are so fond of referring to – will have remains to be seen.
It won’t get any easier when Covid-19 picks up again and decisions will be harder to make.
The current pattern of the pandemic, with cases rising and hospitalizations to halt elective surgeries, cannot continue.
It is becoming ever more dangerous for the tens of thousands of patients on waiting lists whose treatment is being deferred and who are coming to hospital emergency rooms in increasing numbers as their condition worsens.
There is no clear plan for the future and how hospitals in particular will continue trying to function as usual while battling a highly contagious virus.
There is also the ongoing fight to encourage people to take booster vaccines, which will be important in preventing serious illness from Covid-19 in the future.
Add to this the ongoing struggle to ensure people are not confused with changing public health messages. This appears to be the case now and will continue to present challenges. We can expect more of the old guard and these familiar faces to step down in the coming months.
Those who take their place will perhaps find the path even more rocky.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/what-the-exit-of-the-covid-pandemic-old-guard-means-for-us-all-41521050.html What the exit of the old guard of the Covid pandemic means for all of us