Do not be afraid to use the NHS, it is here for you

Being in the Scottish health service, during the coronavirus pandemic is like the better bits of being in the Scottish football premier league. We have immensely skilled players, fantastic training, and incredible teamwork. But we would be nothing without a vast army of supporters.

Forth Valley Royal Hospital nurses gather for International Nurses Day. Picture: Michael Gillen
Forth Valley Royal Hospital nurses gather for International Nurses Day. Picture: Michael Gillen

Over the last few weeks those supporters have 3D printed face visors; sewn scrubs; offered accommodation and equipment; done a hundred and one things, thoughtful and practical, to keep us on our feet. Others have played their part by simply staying at home when asked to. And every Thursday evening, so many of you turn out to say a very large, very loud, thank you. It feels like we are all part of one big team, working together to get through this.

In the health service, one of the things our teams do every day is ask each other “are you all right?”.

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And we are worried that some of you on the wider team are not all right.

Lockdown always carried the risk that some of us would have increased problems with our physical or mental well-being. We expected that as well as treating those who were laid low by the pandemic, we would also care for many with urgent ‘non-Covid’ health issues. Worryingly, what we are seeing is not an increase in people coming forward for help, but an increase in reported deaths, over and above those that can be laid directly at the door of coronavirus.

In the last few weeks the health service has, quite rightly, focused on caring for patients with Covid 19. Much routine work has been put “on hold”, and patients and families have been so understanding about the delays and uncertainty that has meant.

But urgent and emergency care is not “on hold”. As well as Covid-19 services, all other urgent and emergency services are running, with the time, space and staff that patients need. Whether it is a possible stroke or heart attack, a serious injury, or any other new and worrying symptoms, we are here to look after you.

Some patients are worried about catching coronavirus if they come to hospital. That is a risk, and one we can’t completely get rid of it. But across Scotland we have reorganised services so that we can keep patients separated when we need to; we can test patients for coronavirus as soon as necessary, and get results back quickly; we can look after different patients in different areas of the hospital, to keep everyone as safe as we possibly can.

So services might feel a little different. You might be offered a phone or video consultation by your own doctor, or by the hospital, as a first step.

If you need to be seen in person, you might be asked to come to a different building from usual, or a different part of the building. If you need to be admitted to hospital, it might be to a different ward to the one you would expect. But the specialist teams are here, we are able to see you, we are able to look after you. And even if we get an increase in Covid admissions again, we will always be able to look after anyone who is in urgent need.

So please, stay home, stay safe. But if your own life, physical or mental health, or that of a loved one, is at risk, remember that we are here for you.

We have the time to look after you, we have the staff to look after you. Save lives – it is your NHS, don’t be afraid to use it.

Nikki Thompson is deputy chair of BMA Scotland