Doctors stepping into the leadership void
Dr Kamilla Kamaruddin
‘How baeuteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in it!’
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
We live in unprecedented times, and it's clear that we have a huge challenge for us health care professionals in the NHS and the public. We have never faced it before, a war with an enemy with no face and only a name, Covid-19.
As the battle progressed, we heard of many heroic acts by healthcare professionals all over the world. Which of us could not empathise with Dr Li Wenliang, a Chinese ophthalmologist who was widely known as the whistle-blower doctor who first warned his colleagues about a possible outbreak what we now know is Covid-19? His death sparked public outrage and hopefully it has brought some comfort to his family when finally, the Chinese authorities have recently exonerated Dr Li Wenliang. He must never be forgotten. Nor who can forget the Italian doctors on the front lines who work tirelessly to save patients from dying and working under dire situations, reportedly even working without protective equipment.
The foolishness of many leaders in this world is heart breaking. Trump’s ignorance and stupidity is legendary by all standards. Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president is another who dismissed that the Covid-19 outbreak is just a ‘hysteria’. But perhaps the most idiotic of them all is the minister of health in Malaysia, who on national TV has claimed that drinking lukewarm water can kill coronavirus. These actions could have led to the loss of so many lives. It’s a national disgrace that this Government is not providing health care workers with adequate PPE.
But we healthcare professionals in the NHS are above all that. We are facing huge challenges in providing care and we have to adapt very rapidly to new ways of working, many innovative ways and some untested territories. Without adapting it would be disastrous to our care for the general public. The pandemic is changing our ways of working on a daily basis, and what seems reasonable for today is not for the next day. We are all anxious and afraid and there are still many unknowns.
We GPs have a responsibility as frontline doctors in this pandemic to meet the unexpected demands put upon us and do our best to protect the best interest and safety of our patients, staff, colleagues, our families and ourselves. We have had to abandon bookable appointments and have started to triage patients by phone, e-consult and video consults. We soldier on with a reduced workforce. We help to manage demand so as not to burden secondary care. We don’t want to reach a situation where overwhelmed doctors in hospitals have to be given guidelines to help them decide which patients should have the chance to live or die if we run out of ventilators or intensive care beds.
In the worst of times, we have the chance to see the best in us
Many of us find innovative ways to communicate and provide the latest information about addressing Covid-19 issues. We have WhatsApp groups with local and national groups, TeamNet and Zoom for remote conferences. The messages are continuous, well into midnight. In a blink of an eye, 100 unopened messages appear. I would read almost every single WhatsApp message and emails because I fear I would miss the most recent update on Covid-19. It's exhausting, but we continue and keep going and sometimes it feels like a sprint
Most importantly, I feel that it's important for us never to stop trying to make changes, as each change no matter how small, can help make things better: We discuss about caring for the vulnerable and the housebound, those who live alone and in care homes, end of life and palliative patients, a centralised local Covid-19 unit, home visiting service and a local CMHS (central monitoring home service). Our healthcare teams. volunteers, medical students and ancillary staff who tirelessly mans the phone for our patients and our cleaners. Even retired GPs rang to provide any help they can.
Many local CCGs and GP federations have been supportive too, taking the reins and making a difference for the GP community. Every one of us has tirelessly contributed and sacrificed their time and effort. We are all in this together in a battle against Covid-19.
In the worst of times, we have the chance to see the best in us. When this is over, and the country will be grateful for what we have done, we will be enormously proud of ourselves.
On a personal note: I live alone and when I go back home, I don’t have anyone to make me a comforting cup of tea and to chat with and moan about my day. Yet I still remember the days when the most important person in my life was still insisting to carry the shopping bags for me even when he was falling over because of his illness. I sleep well at night with the memories of the power of his resilience.
Dr Kamilla Kamaruddin is a PCN clinical director in Tower Hamlets, London