Home > “They don’t teach you this in med school”: Caring for the most vulnerable at Christmas.

[thejournal.ie] “They don’t teach you this in med school”: Caring for the most vulnerable at Christmas. (24 Dec 2014)

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What is Christmas like when you’re looking after people who are society’s most vulnerable?

Patrick O’Donnell trained as a GP and is based in Limerick, where he runs two clinics for people who are marginalised – such as sex workers, drug users, undocumented migrants, and homeless people.

He has had about 300 consultations with 150 different patients over the past four months in the clinic, and says that Christmas comes with its own specific challenges.

He trained as a GP, and went on to do a Masters in global health in Trinity College Dublin. Now he works with the University of Limerick as a GP and researcher and does academic work and teaching around social inclusion.

As part of his work in UL, part of his brief was to set up a service for people who don’t have access to GPs.  He runs a clinic for two afternoons, within the St Vincent de Paul and Anna Liffey.

“We do meet people at their lowest ebb”

Christmas can be a time of “huge stress” for the people he sees. He says that not a huge amount of them are sleeping on the street – about 15 out of 150 new patients he would have seen over the year would sleep rough.

Christmas time means winter, which can mean bad weather, which in turn can affect people’s health, particularly drug users.

“One of the obvious things we do is vaccinate against the flu virus,” he says.

People can also experience financial stresses, as some would have children and be trying to save money. “A lot of them are really really stressed or worried,” he says. “Some will have a pretty chaotic hand-to-mouth daily existence.”

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