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Drive-thru flu jabs could be introduced as doctors prepare for second coronavirus wave in Northern Ireland

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Dr George O’Neill says flu vaccination plans should be considered now

Dr George O’Neill says flu vaccination plans should be considered now

Dr George O’Neill says flu vaccination plans should be considered now

Drive-thru flu vaccinations are under consideration as GPs prepare for a potential second wave of coronavirus this winter.

One of Northern Ireland's top GPs explained that community pharmacists could also be used during the flu season, while help may be needed from the Department of Health to administer the jabs.

Dr George O'Neill said the flu season is just months away and plans must be in place to deliver flu jabs sooner rather than later.

Outlining the looming danger that could be realised this winter, Dr O'Neill compared Covid-19 to the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918.

The second wave of that virus hit during the winter months and claimed more lives than the first.

"If you combine the normal natural flu - if you can call it normal - plus Covid-19, a double whammy will hit us towards the end of this year so the flu jab is going to be crucially important," he said.

"Towards the beginning of the winter we're going to have to administer the flu jabs and if there's still ongoing problems, which I'm sure there will be, we're going to have to think of a new way of doing this.

"We're throwing ideas around about the flu jabs. Drive-thrus could be a possibility and maybe working with community pharmacists. We have to think of different ways of doing this.

"Rather than putting it off, it should be faced up to now and we should have some idea about where we're going to be.

"We're halfway through May and it's in September and October when we start to consider giving flu jabs."

GPs have already recommenced baby vaccinations and immunisations but the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) - mainly face masks - is an ongoing concern.

Dr O'Neill, who is the joint chair of the West Belfast GP Federation, believes that the mother of the child should also be wearing face masks.

"We need so many face masks because if you have maybe 12 babies a week coming in with the mother, the mother should, in my view, wear a face mask," he said.

"Everybody should be treated as a suspected Covid-19 carrier.

"These are things GPs are thinking about at the moment and certainly in both the North and West Belfast GP Federations, we have set up a small sub-group to look at how we can start moving back into the normal world again."

Dr O'Neill said changes in the healthcare system that have occurred since the outbreak of the virus would normally have "taken years".

One of the main positives to have come from the crisis is the increased use of video and telephone consultations with patients. Dr O'Neill has called this development a "major game changer".

He explained that in some areas, hospitals can carry out 70% of their post-operation consultations through telephone calls or online video conferencing with a patient.

As part of that effort, patients have been encouraged to buy their own blood pressure monitors and pulse oximeters so they can pass on the results to their GP.

"With video and telephone consultations there is no going back," said Dr O'Neill. "This is here to stay and patients like it because it's quicker.

"If you ring up you'll have a response with you within a day.

"It saves the patient a visit to the hospital, it means we can deal with patients quicker and it's better all round for everybody concerned.

"It's a win-win situation and it's a major game changer.

"There's a positive that will come out this and also new ways of working.

"What has happened in the last seven to eight weeks has been incredible.

"The changes that have occurred would have taken years but things have happened quickly and rapidly.

"Everybody has been working together and towards the same aim. Everyone is looking for the same outcome.

"There are positives to this, it's not all doom and gloom."

Belfast Telegraph