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The message on respecting the NHS is going viral

The Covid-19 situation is changing so rapidly that I could be addressing a post-apocalyptic waste ground by the time you read this (or don’t).

It certainly feels like the battle against coronavirus has become a full-on war. And war, huh, what is it good for? Absolutely something. Because it’s an ill wind, etc, even if it comes with a rain of Covid-19 droplets. So somehow, sometime, some positives might emerge from this mess.

For example, the ‘dig for victory’ mentality that this crisis is engendering might just make the general public appreciate the NHS a little more, now that they’re being deprived of much of it. Many younger cohorts have grown up with an all-you-can-eat service that has always catered for their every want, even when those wants betray the mentality of a stroppy two-year-old. Not any more.

So those who don’t hesitate to dial up at stupid-o’clock about that forgotten script, that annoying niggle they’ve had for months or the fact they’ve suddenly come over all terribly sad, will hopefully find a less indulgent health service abruptly and dramatically realigning their expectations. Which means contacting 111 in mid-pandemic might become less phone call and more wake-up call.

Contacting 111 in mid-pandemic might become less phone call and more wake-up call

Assuming they can get through at all. And even the patients whose NHS interactions comprise habitual and proper use rather than whimsical and instantly gratifying abuse are encountering – and, generally, accepting – significant change, such as a shift to remote consulting. Maybe the coronaviral lessons will even focus political minds on what the NHS can reasonably be expected to provide these days. For far too long, the emphasis has been on icing rather than cake, with new initiatives and absurd expectations crushing the life out of the core service.

Even at the best of times, the NHS is on the brink of meltdown. While the current situation is hardly typical, it does help highlight that we should shift our priorities away from novelty and indulgence and towards treating the sick, with enough slack in the system to manage crises – there’s one every winter, after all.What else? Well, here I’m anticipating that the plug has by now been pulled on appraisal, CQC, QOF et al*, and I’m hoping that the Government will notice how wonderfully primary care can perform without micromanagement and nanoscrutiny.

And how the redeployment of those lost to the clipboard, the tick-box and the hoop-jump can actually make a significant contribution to the workforce crisis. Although when I say pull the plug, I really mean permanently strip all the wiring. Finally, even my own attitude is changing.

The Hancockian digital dream has always seemed more Hitchcockian nightmare to me. But now that nudge has come to shove, and I find myself obliged, say, to video-consult, I’m starting to think he might have a point. Although that could be an early coronaviral encephalitis speaking. See? It’s not all bad, is it? Is it?? Hello???

Is anyone out there???? Well, that was a bloody waste of time, wasn’t it?

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of Copperfield’s blogs at

*Please note that this column was originally published in the April 2020 issue of Pulse