As coronavirus took hold for the first time earlier this year GPs had to completely change the way they work
CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on My London
Dr Rachel Tunbridge, a GP at East Croydon Medical Centre, said nothing could have prepared her for the events of 2020 so far. “Six years of medical school, five years of general training and nine years of working in general practice certainly couldn’t have prepared me for what has happened this year,” she said, when speaking at Healthwatch Croydon’s annual meeting on October 14.
“At the start of 2020 GPs were alerted to the outbreak of a new respiratory virus; this all felt vaguely familiar – we’ve had experience of new respiratory illnesses in the past, most recently one known as MERS.
“We followed a similar process for a short period of time. However, as the days and weeks went on there was a sense of unease that this was different. Within a matter of weeks, general practice as I knew it had changed beyond recognition. Suddenly the waiting room was empty and my list of face-to-face appointments was replaced with a list of telephone calls. We knew we had to do this to protect our patients and staff, but it was not general practice as we knew it.”
Dr Tunbridge said that body language and eye contact could not be easily replicated over the ‘phone or on a video call. GPs had to start wearing PPE, which was hard to get hold of at first, leading to volunteers sewing scrubs, face masks and visors for doctors’ surgeries. The unknown nature of the virus meant that guidance was changing regularly.
“The situation changed on a daily and sometimes hourly basis,” said Dr Tunbridge. “Patients look to us for reassurance, and we will always try our best to help them through what was an anxious and uncertain time for everybody. We care and worry about our patients but, as doctors, we’re not immune to feeling the same worry that the entire nation is feeling.”
As we begin to enter stricter COVID-19 rules in London and around the country GPs are still open for those that need it. Anyone eligible for a ‘flu jab is advised to contact their GP; this is to relieve extra pressure on the NHS this winter as coronavirus cases increase.
“The key message is that the NHS is open for business and if people have a worry or health concern they should contact their GP,” Dr Agnelo Fernandes, a GP at Parchmore Medical Centre, added. “GPs have been seeing people face-to-face right through the pandemic, using PPE, so, in terms of being able to access a GP, people shouldn’t be scared to access them. During the pandemic people didn’t want to bother the NHS, and built up problems, whether that was cancer or heart disease, so it is important to do that now.”
He added that visiting a surgery will be different now, with patients wearing face masks and observing social distancing whilst there.