Coronavirus crisis shows why NHS must now be properly funded – Dr Sue Robertson

Almost overnight, health service staff had to become experts in a new disease and adopt a new way of working (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)Almost overnight, health service staff had to become experts in a new disease and adopt a new way of working (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Almost overnight, health service staff had to become experts in a new disease and adopt a new way of working (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
As we mourn colleagues, friends, relatives and patients who have lost their lives to Covid-19 or come to harm, we must work towards a better health and social care service, writes Dr Sue Robertson

Tonight there will be no official clap for key workers – although I have no doubt many of you will be thinking of them at 8pm. As I joined in with the final clap last week, I was struck by what an emotional rollercoaster we have been on recently.

When Covid-19 came to the UK, we looked to colleagues with experience of this new illness. We listened to their experiences and teachings about patient presentations, treatment strategies and so on. Medicine is a global community and at times like this our global networks are incredibly rich places for information gathering, idea generation and strategic thinking.

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Whilst we gained all of that, we also gained a clear message that this was going to be a global pandemic, the sort of thing that happens once a century and changes our lives and the practice of medicine forever.

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Fear was something I have never really felt about my workplace or living environment, but suddenly it felt like we were being plunged into a war zone. Inside and outside of work, all we heard about was Covid-19. We had to become as expert as possible as quickly as possible. Our families, friends, healthcare teams, and indeed ourselves, expected us to lead and inform as is usual for doctors but it was hard not to feel fear.

As the NHS management structure made their plans, stopped us doing our usual “routine work” and prepared us to face the Covid-19 storm, that fear was extended to worrying about not only Covid-19-related illness but also what would happen to those whose treatment had been put on hold, to those patients with chronic illnesses or suspected cancers that needed management too. PPE supplies dwindled (although they later improved), and we worried about our own risk and the risk faced by the other members of our healthcare teams.

We went to work when many others were able to stay safe at home. We cried and we couldn’t hold each other and give each other the usual comfort. We couldn’t allow our patients’ relatives in to see them and support them through their dark hours. We phoned and explained and updated and we did our best. We looked around us and hoped that none of our loved ones would get ill. All of this was very frightening.

The clap for the NHS began and when it happened on the first Thursday evening at 8pm it was incredibly emotional for us all. Not only did it mark the unprecedented nature of the times, but it was a public expression of gratitude for our work and we really, really needed that.

This has been tough, and the weekly clap of thanks has been so cherished by us all during these unprecedented times.

As the first wave shows signs of receding and the clap is being stood down along with some of the Covid-19 rotas, we reflect on the past three months and plan for the near future and how the NHS can get up and running again despite the continuing presence of this deadly virus.

We mourn colleagues, friends, family members and patients who have lost their lives or come to harm and we look forward. We cannot just go back – we must do things differently.

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We need an honest appraisal of what our care services have the capacity to deliver and start a public conversation about what is possible within the resources at our disposal, and where and how we can do it. The time for that conversation is now.

Let’s learn the lessons of the past and engage the public and professionals together to plan a brighter, better, adequately funded future of health and social care in Scotland.

Dr Sue Robertson is deputy chair of the BMA’s Scottish Council

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