Hornchurch GP warns of a second public health crisis, amidst NHS fears over non-Covid backlog
PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 June 2020
The NHS has prioritised Covid-19 from the moment its deadly potential became clear.
There is no denying that this was the right thing to do.
Without such attention, countless further lives could have been lost, compounding an already tragic landscape.
Yet the clinical view is that this prioritisation will adversely affect non-Covid patients.
Hornchurch-based GP Ben Molyneux, speaking in his capacity as sessional GP committee chairman for the British Medical Association, believes this impact is already being felt: “Every single day I am receiving calls from patients who are concerned about future treatments.”
The practitioner at Hornchurch Healthcare Medical Practice explains that his Covid-19 workload has dropped right off from its April peak, with patients now anxious about the return of treatments and services which were understandably postponed.
The challenge of rebooting the NHS is complex; each trust runs individually, and with a lack of “cemented plan” from government, Dr Molyneux says recovery plans remain “piecemeal”.
This rests against the unforgiving reality that non-Covid issues are not going away.
Coronavirus saw most unrelated procedures be cancelled or postponed, both from before and during the pandemic.
Dr Molyneux remarks on the approximate two million people waiting for cancer treatment.
Each day without a coordinated recovery plan means further delays for those patients, with potentially devastating consequences.
The clinician is clear: “We have got to get real about the challenge. The scale of the work that needs to be done is huge.”
Joined-up thinking is required to meet this challenge, says Dr Molyneux, who draws confidence from how the NHS mobilised when the outbreak first hit: “I’m totally amazed at how much everyone has done since March.”
In a time of crisis, the NHS was given the direction and tools needed to tackle coronavirus. The same is required now to get the remainder of the service back on track.
At the time of writing, the Romford-based GP is unaware of any official government guidance on how to do this.
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Individual trusts do have autonomy, he says, but stresses that there is no national plan: “For example, in our area we can refer patients to other services again, but that’s not the case everywhere.”
This imbalance risks creating an unwelcome postcode lottery.
Restarting all non-Covid treatments comes with two important asterisks: worries over funding and worries over a possible second wave.
Dr Molyneux is wary that the handling of this pandemic may inadvertently bring about another public health crisis.
Funding was rightly ploughed into combatting coronavirus, but should that financial support waver, the backlog of non-Covid patients could be crippling.
Dr Molyneux points to the previous state of the NHS for evidence: “The sad fact is that we entered the Covid-19 crisis under-resourced and underprepared. We were hard pressed a year ago when we didn’t have coronavirus.”
This makes the need for sustained funding all the greater, with the practitioner anticipating a possible 36-month recovery time.
The second asterisk cannot be remedied by a cash injection; rather, Dr Molyneux accepts that all plans to recommence non-Covid treatments live alongside the risk of a second wave.
Working in such a way is difficult, says the GP, with trusts understandably determined not to appear “cavalier” about the dangers of coronavirus.
However, he stresses that there will always be an “element of a gamble” involved in any decision which redirects resources away from the Covid fight.
The balance lies in planning sensibly, but without complacency.
Dr Molyneux wants to see the improving coronavirus situation reflected in the scheduling of procedures, treatments and services which have taken a backseat.
The NHS — and its workers — understand that the reality of a second wave shelves those plans all over again.
Yet that is no reason not to push forward, says Dr Molyneux.
The GP’s overarching request is for guidance, so that the NHS can safely return to treating every aspect of the nation’s health.
Without this, a second crisis feels inevitable.
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