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The waiting game

GPs shouldn't ignore the threat of coronavirus - but we're equipped to deal with it

Dr Kailash Chand

Bill Gates once told his TED Talk audience: ‘When I was a kid, the disaster we worried about most was a nuclear war’.

But today he says: ‘If anything kills over ten million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus, rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes.’

The world has been in grip of anxiety since the outbreak of coronavirus, with the World Health Organisation declaring it an ‘emergency in China’, and the virus having now been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, France, the US, Australia and Malaysia.

According to experts, it’s no longer a question of ‘if’ it arrives in the UK - it’s a question of ‘when’. 

Just yesterday, Dr Yvonne Doyle, director of health protection at Public Health England (PHE), warned that she expects it to already be here; Border Force teams are trying to trace 2,000 people who have recently flown from Wuhan to the UK; and PHE has issued guidance to GPs on if their patients present with the symptoms

As we saw in 2002, when SARS spread to 30 countries, killing 916 people, coronaviruses – which take their name from the menacing, crown-like protein spikes on their surface – are no laughing matter. In the absence of a vaccine or a treatment, this makes the Wuhan-born virus a scary prospect, and one we GPs in the UK ought to take seriously.

If one goes by the past experience of epidemics, whether SARS, AIDS or bird flu, the NHS will cope

The consequences of a major coronavirus outbreak would be world-changing. In 1918, a flu pandemic killed 50 million to 100 million people – at the top end, more than the combined total casualties of both World Wars – and for a slew of reasons, humans are arguably more vulnerable today than they were 100 years ago.

Health secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: ‘We are continuing to monitor the Wuhan coronavirus closely and are taking all necessary steps to protect the public We have completed 31 precautionary tests and there are no confirmed cases in the UK. The NHS remains well prepared and well equipped to deal with all eventualities’. 

Is he right? Perhaps. 

Because if one goes by the past experience of epidemics, whether SARS, AIDS or bird flu, the NHS will cope. We survived because the NHS family works and coordinates with other organisations and practitioners in the fields of public health and primary and secondary care.

It’s now widely acknowledged that the NHS is under tremendous pressure. As social services for home helps and other care funding has fallen by 11% in five years, this has resulted in serious bed blocking, with more than 2,500 hospital beds a day taken up by patients whose release has been delayed due to problems in the social care system.

GPs are seeing more patients than ever – an increase of 15.4% since 2010-11, with more than 350 million consultations every year – but access to appointments is still problematic for many.

However, despite huge workloads, I’m sure GPs won’t shirk their responsibilities to deal with any emergency thrown at them, should coronavirus hit British shores.

Maybe NHS England should focus on this instead of its draft service specifications for PCNs, that hold no clinical relevance.

Dr Kailash Chand OBE is a retired GP in Tameside

 

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Readers' comments (7)

  • Took Early Retirement

    humans are arguably more vulnerable today than they were 100 years ago.- Bovine faeces.

    "However, despite huge workloads, I’m sure GPs won’t shirk their responsibilities to deal with any emergency thrown at them, should coronavirus hit British shores."

    Deluded. I've worked in a flu epidemic. It's exhausting.

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  • David Banner

    Cope? Hmmmmm
    We’ll be emailed dictats ordering us to run around to all and sundry prescribing massive quantities of expensive useless antiviral placebos (to fool the public something is being done), patients will be told to “call the doctor out” to avoid attending surgery, GPs will inevitably contract the virus themselves, and of course all the work currently drowning the few remaining GPs won’t just magically disappear.
    Having starved Primary Care down to skeletal proportions, don’t be surprised if it succumbs to this virus.

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  • This article is a parody, right?

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  • Last sentence holds the anticipated punchline.

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  • Are you coming out of retirement to do it .

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  • However, despite huge workloads, I’m sure GPs won’t shirk their responsibilities to deal with any emergency thrown at them, should coronavirus hit British shores.
    Deluded and out of touch.
    How many shifts are you prepared to do?

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  • if they were really serious about stopping the spread of coronovirus all travel from china should have been stopped on day 1 and any one from china quarantined for 14 days. It kills the those who have a serious medical condition, as does any viral infection. We have not been given any protective equipment and advising us to leave a patient in our room and wait for PPE, when 999 ambulance waiting times are currently an hour for a doctors surgery is both unrealistic and unworkable. If we get exposed do we take 2 weeks off work and self quarantine? The NHS would collapse if we did. As it is we will do our best, over worked with no pay, because we actually give a sh##e but with a reducing workforce being replaced by those with considerably less experience who are on contracts and would be expected to be paid overtime or given time in lieu this is not a given anymore. Any outbreak will collapse any local service and patients will die as a consequence but not from this strain of coronavirus. You have been warned.

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