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A wake-up call for everyone in medicine

It’s been a strange time. It’s been interesting to see how the medical community has reacted to an unknown pathogen, but mostly it’s been a lesson in humility, as for once in modernity, science has no answers.

We have supportive measures, true, but if the most technologically sophisticated and expensive field of medicine – ICU – can only confer a 50% survival rate, then it cannot be regarded as a solution.

We have stood in awe watching our ICU and respiratory colleagues grind it out in hellishly hot PPE, hoping that the strain of their efforts may just make a difference. Sadly, in many cases they were simply bearing witness to the inevitable.

It’s been a lesson in humility, as science has no answers

Then, there are the many medical professionals – and GPs – who have lost their lives in the line of duty. The stakes have always been high in medicine – the pressure, the litigation, the possibility of error, but I don’t think anyone thought they would lose their life. The role of the Government and Public Health England in this can’t be overstated. I don’t intend to expand on this now – you all know it, suffice to say their approach has been deadly.

Paradoxically, at this exact moment of chaos and uncertainty, doctors and nurses have been idolised. At times, it has felt like you can’t move for SHOs or GPs offering well-meaning advice in public, only for it later to be proved wrong. I can’t help feeling this was a bit unwise – we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking a bit of knowledge is the same as evidence.

We should try to hold onto some of the things that we’ve learnt. For me, the limitations of the ’treatment approach’ have never been starker. Prevention and care seem to offer the most value and GPs, quite frankly, are the best at it.

As my very poorly-controlled type two diabetic patient said to me recently: ‘It is all short-sighted this giving medicine to the diabetic. It’s like giving alcohol to an alcoholic, innit?’ Quite.

Dr Charlotte Alexander is a GP in Surrey