During Covid, NHS has found new ways of working it will want to keep – Dr Graeme Eunson

The NHS is always there for you when you need it most, writes Dr Graeme Eunson
The NHS has changed dramatically in order to respond to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak and some changes are likely to stay (Picture: John Devlin)The NHS has changed dramatically in order to respond to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak and some changes are likely to stay (Picture: John Devlin)
The NHS has changed dramatically in order to respond to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak and some changes are likely to stay (Picture: John Devlin)

It’s strange to realise that we’re now well into spring, and yet in the last two months, time seems to have become a very abstract concept. For the NHS, this used to be the time we started to catch our breath after another year of prolonged winter pressures, but this year has been very different.

At the end of March, the UK finally recognised that our island nation was not going to be immune to the impact of Covid-19, the country was placed in lockdown and the NHS moved onto an emergency footing.

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For those of us working in the NHS, this has meant many different things, and adapting to working in new ways. As a consultant paediatrician, I have spent my whole career training and focussing on the health of our younger population.

If you asked most other doctors what scares them most about medicine, they would say it is the unpredictable nature of looking after sick children. The personal irony for me is that it has been almost 20 years since I last looked after an “adult” patient, and when I first heard that we were looking to redeploy staff to different areas of the hospital, I admit I was anxious about finding myself working outwith my comfort zone on the children’s ward.

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Sometimes adversity can be the mother of invention and so, as the NHS geared up for Covid-19, our team of paediatricians recognised our skills would still be best used in the care of our younger population, and our contribution would be in taking some of the load off of general practice teams by helping to staff our local “Covid-19 Community Hub”.

The hubs work very much like GP out-of-hours services, are accessed through NHS 111 but run 24/7. These centres have been set up across Scotland, with the purpose of separating the frontline NHS work into two arms – “Non-Covid” and “Covid-19”. This allows patients who may be at a higher risk of transmitting the virus to be seen and assessed, without the added risk of them inadvertently passing it to their fellow patients in GP or A&E waiting rooms.

Although it has taken a little getting used to, this new way of working, there are a few things we have found during the process we are likely to want to continue once the NHS returns to “normal”. With modern IT infrastructure in place, there are many things the NHS used to do face-to-face that can be done just as well remotely. This saves families having to travel, which is particularly important in rural areas where transport is often a bigger issue.

Our service makes use of the NHS video consultation (VC) system called “Near Me”, a secure video service that allows us to “see” the patient in front of us.

It is amazing the difference this makes during a consultation, particularly when we are dealing with potential cases of Covid-19. It allows you to see the patient’s effort and rate of breathing, hear them cough and generally determine if they look well or unwell. It is great how quickly you can tell that the child lying there listless needs to be seen straight away, but the one playing with their parent’s phone while they try to VC is probably doing OK.

We all have our part to play, and the nation is pulling together in a way that seemed impossible six months ago. We have a long way to go before anything like normal returns but, so far, the NHS has coped remarkably well. Until then stay safe, look out for each other and remember that the NHS is always there for you when you need it most.

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Dr Graeme Eunson is a paediatric consultant at Borders General Hospital and chair of the BMA’s Scottish Consultants Committee

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