A Galway-based GP says he’s had to kick some unvaccinated patients out of his surgery for "hurling abuse" at his staff.
Dr Brian Higgins says there are some people who have chosen not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 but are still actively trying to protect others around them.
However, there are others who are “causing a huge amount of difficulty for healthcare workers”.
The latest vaccination data shows around 92% of adults in Ireland have been fully vaccinated, leaving just 8% partially vaccinated or unvaccinated.
There’s now a disproportionate number of unvaccinated people being treated in ICU for COVID-19 - with over half of patients in ICU with the virus not vaccinated at all.
Dr Higgins told Lunchtime Live everyone has a right to autonomy when it comes to choosing whether or not to get vaccinated.
He said: “We’re very lucky, insofar as we live in a very free society where people are allowed make their own decisions. But I think sometimes that right to autonomy, which is incredibly important, is confused with the right to put other people at risk.
“I have patients, who are reasons be it anxiety or personal decisions… choose for now not to vaccinate. But they’re also not necessarily putting me or my staff at risk - they’re very careful with social distancing, wear masks, and won’t come into the practise if they’re symptomatic. They’re actively still trying to help other people around them.
“But there is a cohort of patients who’ve been causing a huge amount of difficulty for healthcare workers. They’re people who maybe don’t believe in COVID, or believe we’re trying to put them in harms’ way by vaccinating them.”
I've had very difficult consultations recently with unvaccinated patients.
I often ask myself "Why do they still want me to be their doctor when they don't trust my advice."
The truth is, if people don't trust my advice I'm not their doctor; that relationship isn't there.
— Brian Higgins (@DrBrianHiggins) October 21, 2021
He said he’s had unvaccinated patients come into the surgery with possible symptoms of COVID, but who have refused to get tested or wear a mask.
Some of those patients have been “incredibly abusive” to staff when they’ve been reluctant to see them.
Dr Higgins said: “I will never let a patient of mine who is acutely unwell not be seen. But the experience I’ve had with some of these patients… they haven’t been very sick. They just don’t believe in COVID or the vaccine.
“They’re not willing to think about the ‘what if I’m wrong?’ question... they don't care.
“We don’t really know what to do with these patients - it’s just a really difficult situation.
“I kicked them out. If someone came in very short of breath or was obviously sick… I would see them. But these are people who came into reception and hurled abuse at my staff. My priority was protecting my staff and other patients.”
Dr Higgins says there’s always the possibility some of those patients could report him to the Medical Council.
However, he said he’d defend himself against complaint as he “truly believe” he’s done the right thing in those cases.
The GP said some unvaccinated patients are willing to have a conversation with him, and doctors are "very, very happy" to have those conversations.
There are some patients who are genuinely scared, while others may be pregnant and concerned about doing anything that could harm the pregnancy.
Some, however, genuinely believe that doctors are simply “part of a conspiracy to try to hurt them”.
Dr Higgins said: “People don’t follow my advice all the time - that’s human nature. But they trust me.
“It’s more those patients who believe I’d do something to [harm them]... that lack of trust in the doctor.”