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Review of the year: When Covid first hit

It may feel like a lifetime ago, but it was just about a year since we started hearing about a new form of coronavirus.

Previous strains of the infection – severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) – caused 774 and 858 deaths worldwide respectively. This novel coronavirus 2019-nCov looked like following a similar path.

On 29 January, there was a fair bit of attention in the popular press about this Covid-19. But although there had been 130 deaths from 4,500 cases in the 16 countries it had spread to, all 30-odd people who’d been tested in the UK had negative results.

The main concern back then was that all the media attention would drive the worried well to their GP practices and place extra strain on services. Official advice was simply to avoid travelling to the Chinese province of Wuhan, where Covid had originated.

By the end of January, two cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in the UK. England’s CMO Professor Chris Whitty said: ‘The NHS is extremely well-prepared and used to managing infections and we are already working rapidly to identify any contacts the patients had, to prevent further spread.’

Before long, frontline health workers were knee deep in the muddy field frantically trying to catch the bolted horse, while the Government was having meetings about closing the stable door.

Some 100 UK cases had been identified in early March, yet PM Boris Johnson was merrily going around shaking their hands in clear contravention of scientific advice to avoid physical contact with people. The nation was out on the doorsteps clapping for the NHS heroes, while Johnson was apparently flipping them the middle finger.

A £20 million pledge for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop a vaccine came in March, weeks before the UK locked down.

The initial work to conduct pathogen gene sequencing, begin clinical trials and get a vaccine ready was projected to run across an ‘extremely ambitious timeline’ of 16 weeks.

Meanwhile, GPs and frontline clinical staff donned what PPE they had at their disposal and battened down the hatches for the almighty storm ahead.

At Pulse, we did what we could by way of support, providing Covid-19 resources and our clinical crises series to help you to manage non-Covid subacute problems you might come across while hospitals ploughed all their resources into coronavirus care.

At the time of writing, the first cohorts of patients were set to be vaccinated against Covid-19 within days. The optimistic among us see a glimmer of hope on the horizon.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Vinci Ho 28 December, 2020 6:49 am

As I wrote in my long comment under ‘Review of the year: Remember the recruitment problems?’, there are patterns in history where we , human beings , somehow can never change our behaviour through learnings . Perhaps, ‘warnings’ are not enough and only painful realities are. Politicians and arguably highly specialised ‘experts’ were, at least in the beginning, out of touch with real people and those of us working in the frontline, totally ignoring their feelings . I can accept that it might be a fine line between confidence and arrogance but the latter appeared to have done more damages at the early stage of Covid 19 story .
For me , I just feel ‘honoured’ to be a witness of history watching painfully from the protests in my birthplace , conflict between the two largest economies of the world , explosion in Lebanon( and its ramifications) , Belarus , to ,of course , Covid 19 .
To me , the only focus right now is to prepare my PCN to vaccinate our patients in next two weeks .
55 years old , I perhaps would have consumed all the knowledge I acquired in this career(clearly not enough)to play a small part in this global disaster…….
Wish you all have a better new year called 2021…..

Alias Nobody 28 December, 2020 2:36 pm

>>Remember the recruitment problems?’, there are patterns in history where we , human beings , somehow can never change our behaviour through learnings . Perhaps, ‘warnings’ are not enough and only painful realities are. <<

Well said. Lots of people and large organisations view 'learning' as a cognitive exercise. Your NHS has seen repeated failures due to repetition of the same themes of mistakes over and over. Then after each inquiry we hear 'learning lessons' – which totally nauseates me.

Because I work in about 3 or 4 different Trusts per year, I have an experience of asking 'Where is your book of lessons?', to which I would normally get "What do you mean?". And then I say, "A single place where I can review all lessons learned relevant to this Trust, which I can be aware of, so as not to repeat mistakes that may be particular to this area of work?" And then 'they' would go something like, 'That's good idea but we don't have it. You've to check our quarterly bulletins.' Checking a handful of these in each Trust usually reveals lessons such as "Check the dose of 'x, y or z' before administration and consult with a colleague if in doubt". Seriously?! That's not 'lessons' – it's basic training! But that sort of thing (an I only gave on example), is what they call 'lessons learned'.

Well no – lessons learned – has to be evidence of cultural and behavioural change, along with 'cognitive' recognition of risk and risk control.

How do people learn i.e. make important behavioural changes? This is not the movies, where we see actor on a screen having a sudden recognition and making a conscious decision to change the course of their life. In the real world two main things drive change, 1. Promise of reward, and 2) Pain or discomfort. Yes – I know about the other yarn about leadership etc – so what happened to leadership in the NHS? It became puppet-ship, obviously. Every Chief Exec – even if they don't know it – is a puppet on a string.

So pain it is – repeated doses – suffering and loss of life – is what I see driving really big change. And that's not just in the NHS.

Take your leaders in govt, they suffer the same mistakes in controlling this pandemic – which was basically to 'follow the evidence'. Any simpleton could see that doing that meant 'you' were behind the curve of the virus's trajectory – and by the time you react, you're very late. They're making the that mistake right now.

But as we all know politricks trumps science, logic and common sense. So bear up, 'welcome to pain.'.