Second coronavirus peak coinciding with winter flu is ‘biggest fear’ for Hornchurch GP
- Credit: Ben Molyneux
What could the UK have done better and what lessons have we learnt, that could help us in the wake of a second peak? The Recorder spoke to a Hornchurch GP.
Since the pandemic broke out in London, Dr Ben Molyneux, who is also the chair of the GP sessional committee for the British Medical Association (BMA) has been dividing his time between Hornchurch Healthcare General Practice and in ‘hot hubs’, facilities set up to diagnose and advise coronavirus patients who are not in hospital, working at one in South Hornchurch.
What has been learnt in the past three months?
“Whatever country you live in, nobody will have done this perfectly, I think with hindsight if we had initiated a lockdown sooner than we did, we would have had fewer cases than we did, the peak wouldn’t have been as high.
“On the positive side, the NHS transformed in a way that nobody could have expected it to do, faster than anybody would have thought possible and I think part of the reason that we didn’t see quite so many images like in Italy of being completely swamped with people in corridors gasping is because the NHS came up and surprised us all, so that’s a massive win.
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“However, unfortunately, we’ve also got the highest death toll in Europe and that’s because we didn’t lock down quick enough. The response from the NHS was as good as it possibly could be.
“We went from zero knowledge [of Covid-19] to having to know what to do immediately. We were finding our way in the dark a little bit. Even now, a lot of the commonly used algorithms and standards that would normally taken years for us to develop, we’re coming up with in days and weeks.
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“We were feeling the pressure early on of high numbers of patients admitted, patients dying, not knowing enough about the disease, what the symptoms were, effective treatment, how to assess the appropriately.
“We’re having to learn rapidly from any source we can.”
What about PPE? Do we still need to worry about shortages?
“In terms of PPE, yes of course there are lessons to learn there. The government had opportunities in the last few years to review what stockpiles there were and they decided not to prioritise it because it’s expensive, and I guess they took the view that it was never going to happen, and unfortunately, it has.
“Although the PPE problem has gone away for now, it’s only really because the peak’s gone down. If the peak comes back tomorrow, I’m still not sure that there’s enough PPE for everybody.
“A lot of my colleagues have been wearing homemade gloves because the government couldn’t produce them, and volunteers have had to come and step in and do that, which is wonderful.
“I’m so thankful for all of the people who have done all manner of things. My mum’s been printing little plastic clips to go on face masks to stop you ears hurt which can last for three weeks, because that’s the only thing she can do to help and I’m so grateful but, should they have needed to do that in the first place?
“It shouldn’t be necessary for a national ask of furloughed fabric workers to be coming in and making up scrubs.
“We all pay our taxes so that the government spends our money wisely and so that we don’t have to then worry about it, but we do at the moment.”
A survey of over 16,300 doctors by the BMA earlier this month found that over half of GPs had to rely on donated or self-bought PPE.
Are we prepared for a second peak? Do you think this is on the horizon?
“We understand Covid better, we’re learning constantly about what the after effects are, yes in that regard, we’re not quite so in the dark as we were, but who knows - how big, when - my biggest fear really is that it doesn’t come in summer and comes in the winter because NHS services are already pressed hard in the winter months.
“We end up with 90 per cent plus hospital bed capacity, we don’t have any room for manoeuvring in the winter.
“If we had a bad flu season again this year on top of Covid, that’s what makes me feel uncomfortable at night time because the latest projections of a November peak is exactly when the flu season starts.
“We have got time to plan for that and we are, the new normal is social distant healthcare. In a month or so people won’t be sat in full waiting rooms, they’ll be redesigned, so we’re not sleepwalking into that and we’re making changes but that doesn’t stop it being scary.”