17th June 2022
Within days of the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) took on the considerable task of finding and providing places to stay for the thousands of people arriving here.
The availability of hotel accommodation, allied with the arrival of flights from Poland into Shannon Airport, meant large numbers of Ukrainian nationals were accommodated in Clare from early March.
From the outset, some of the county’s coastal communities, popular with tourists each summer, welcomed hundreds of Ukrainian nationals. The town of Lisdoonvarna, famous for its annual matchmaking festival, saw its population double with 800 new arrivals. Kilkee and Ballyvaughan also welcomed considerable numbers of people from early and mid-March.
It’s now estimated that there are some 2,700 Ukrainian nationals living in Clare - about 10% of all those who fled to this country. A further 1,000 Ukrainians are in Limerick and North Tipperary. Put simply, this arrival of so many people into the Mid West region in a matter of weeks was unprecedented, and it placed a significant demand on a range of local services.
An integrated inter-agency approach has been key in responding to this crisis. The HSE liaised closely with local authorities and local Gardaí to devise a co-ordinated approach, particularly during the early weeks of the crisis. This close working relationship had already proven invaluable during COVID-19 in particular, and was again helpful now. A Ukraine-specific subgroup of the local HSE Mid West Area Crisis Management Team was also established to co-ordinate the provision of healthcare services, while the HSE is also being represented on county-specific Co-Ordination Groups and Community Forums across the region.
The provision of GP care has been the biggest challenge. GPs throughout the Mid West have stepped up to the mark and taken on new patients, with some even coming out of retirement to offer their expertise. The ShannonDoc Out of Hours service has also provided invaluable support.
However, it has also been necessary to open a GP response clinic in areas that have welcomed the largest numbers of people to date. This pop-up service includes a nurse, interpreter and admin support and is being attended by around 100 patients per week.
Separately, health screenings have been conducted in a range of settings, with supports for those with more complex needs being put in place. Dealing with COVID-19 posed a challenge, but now vaccinations are being offered in accommodation throughout the region. Importantly, to support those who have endured such a difficult experience over the past few months, a range of psychosocial supports have also been put in place.
Chief Officer, HSE Mid West Community Healthcare, Maria Bridgeman, has paid tribute to all of those who have participated into the response.
“While the arrival of so many people into our region in such a short space of time naturally placed considerable pressure on our services, our chief aim has always been to try to ease the trauma of the victims of this dreadful war,” she said.
“Our staff have truly represented the best of the HSE, responding admirably to this challenge. In particular, I want to thank our Social Inclusion team, who have spear-headed our response, and all those staff who have taken on additional work, or in some cases returned from retirement, to play their part.
“I also want to thank the other agencies, both in- and outside the HSE. Local councils, Gardaí and the Red Cross have also worked tirelessly to support those arriving from Ukraine. Our close working relationship has proven invaluable.
“I also want to sincerely congratulate those in local communities throughout the Mid West who have gone above and beyond in giving a truly warm welcome to our new arrivals. During what must be the most incredibly difficult time for people from Ukraine, as they find themselves so far from their homes, I hope that our efforts have offered some comfort.”