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Covid Fatigue – What can we do to help?

The demonstrations taking place currently in Wellington and many other sites around the country are symptomatic of Covid fatigue. The public need to have a better idea of what has been gained by government mandates, so they can better judge the merit of the sacrifices that these have brought. New Zealand's ability to maintain thus far "normal " healthcare through the last 2 years of this pandemic is what government mandates have delivered. During the same period, most health care systems around the world have experienced huge delays and backlogs which most will never be able to catch up.

Despite the generally excellent level of communication from the government over the last 2 years explaining our situation and their response to it, what has been conspicuous by its absence is a thorough explanation of what an “overwhelmed health service” means. It means nothing to the average person except that the workforce becomes exhausted and burnt-out. But it means much more than this, and something that is ultimately much more important. A health service that can no longer meet normal requirements for the general population - reduced and cancelled heart operations, cancer surgery, hip surgery, gallbladder surgery, hernia surgery, cataract surgery, reduced and cancelled special investigations such as colonoscopy, CT scans, mammography and reduced access to general practitioners for “normal” medical problems. This story needs to be told.

While it has been huge that we have had less than 100 deaths in New Zealand, and mostly amongst the elderly, already infirm population, and not many thousands of deaths, affecting all ages - mothers, fathers, children, friends and colleagues, for many, this gain has not seemed real enough. What a much greater number of people have gained is continued access (within limits) to normal healthcare requirements. This is to be contrasted with a health service such as the NHS in the UK, where now well over 10% of the population are on waiting lists for everything from urgent procedures to not so urgent procedures – for life-threatening conditions to simply disabling conditions. Even today, two years on, the number of procedures being performed per month by the NHS is well down on pre-Covid times. There is likely to be a generation of people who will never get the procedures they need to preserve life, and/or quality of life.

As a country, New Zealand may well be alone in largely escaping this hidden toll on society, which is the undeniable success story of vaccination and mandates that this far has not been adequately articulated. Yes, numbers in ICU are important, but New Zealand's ability to maintain timely healthcare across the board is really what matters. The medical profession and the media must do better in explaining the true benefit of the struggles we have endured. This is a global success story.

There is still a job to be done. This is what flattening the curve is all about. We, as health professionals must do all we can to ensure the public know just how important flattening the curve, through vaccination and the various mandates continues to be. This is what the public good requires of us.

An article written by Dr Richard Stubbs


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