A Kildare couple who could not get a specialist appointment for sudden deafness during the coronavirus crisis after contacting more than 30 doctors have spoken about their nightmare ordeal.
John Syrigos and his wife Joanna, who live in Timolin with their son William, eventually had to go to Belfast to get an MRI scan to find out what was causing John's loss of hearing.
"It highlights the challenge many people are having in accessing emergency treatment despite government assurances," said Joanna.
"John has had a completely blocked ear since January with declining hearing.
"He saw a GP on return in March who wrote a referral for an ear, nose and throat specialist just before lockdown.
"Since then he contacted more than 20 specialists in Ireland who all advised they were closed and not seeing patients.
"They advised he go to A&E at Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin.
"But it has ceased all walk-in patients to A&E and instead set up appointments by phone.
"John was advised by a nurse by phone that they wouldn't see him as only extremely urgent cases are taken in despite his symptoms worsening, including ringing in ears and numbness spreading down his arms."
The couple, who run the website Ancient-Origins.net, tried to call A&E at the hospital as John's symptoms worsened.
However, despite calling more than 30 times in three days, he could not get through, Joanna said.
"He tried six other hospitals in Ireland - all closed for walk-in A&E - and finally went to the Mater Hospital but he was also told he could not see a specialist," she added.
"John has tried everything to get assistance but could not get help.
"I myself have also suffered as a result of the current lack of healthcare as my scheduled eye surgery was cancelled, leaving me virtually blind in one eye for the foreseeable future.
"If hundreds of Irish citizens cannot access medical treatment now for conditions it could result in even more deaths or long-term health implications."
John eventually travelled to the Kingsbridge Hospital in Belfast for an MRI where he was diagnosed with middle ear effusion, a build-up of fluid in the space behind the eardrum - which can happen after an infection.
He now needs a tympanostomy tube inserted surgically to help drain the fluid, but as the waiting list backlog grows he does not know when it will be carried out.
A spokeswoman for the Eye and Ear Hospital said patients needing to see an ear nose and throat specialist will be referred by their GP for an outpatient appointment.
All units are accepting emergencies, "albeit following altered guidelines for the common emergencies", she said.
All units have established virtual clinics to triage patients who were on the waiting list.
"The Eye and Ear Hospital has established a helpline for patients with concerns," the spokeswoman added.
"This service is consultant-led and is proving to be very effective.
"While we have had to make changes within some hospital services to adapt to Covid-19, and postpone some services, the health service is here to respond to emergencies or urgent health needs."
Details of hospital service disruptions and visiting restrictions are on HSE.ie.
Meanwhile, GPs have urged that preparations should begin now for how the health service will cope next winter.
Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) president Dr Padraig McGarry said the Government's plans for a total population flu vaccine programme will require urgent and detailed planning now if they are to prove successful.
Dr McGarry said the IMO fully supported the announcement by Health Minister Simon Harris that he was seeking a total population flu vaccine scheme.
"Covid-19 changes the flu challenge completely. We simply can't have the double-whammy of a flu and Covid-19 crisis this winter. We have to up our game," he added.