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The passing of the storm

By Dr Pat Harrold - 05th Apr 2022

The world is in a precarious state right now, but there is hope, at least, that there are better times ahead 

We have weathered the storm. As the skies brighten and the flood waters recede, we are splashing in the shallows, blinking in the sunlight, assessing the damage and planning the future. Storm Omega has passed and we hope we will be better prepared for the next one. 

For the moment, the kids are back in the consulting room. Once again we are looking into little ears, throats, and noses. Urinary tract infections and rashes have returned like summer swallows. A lot of children are shy and we hope they will come out of it. The strong fortress walls of CAMHs remain intact, preserving the boundaries at all costs. 

The patients have different expectations. They have got used to being treated at a distance. GPs are trained to see the patient when they can; it took a lot out of us to treat remotely and it will take more to get things back to normal. Those on the other end of the phone often don’t get it. 

“Why can’t you just send down the antibiotic? You did it before.” 

Decades of sensible prescribing ruined by two years of minimising contact. There are still those who ring up and announce that they have Covid. It is usually not the bad news it was, thanks to vaccines. But there is a certain type who is affronted by the notion of having it at all. “I have a cough,” they say indignantly. “Well, yes,” you respond, “you probably do.” “And my throat is sore.” “I am sure it is,” you say. “So what can you do?” “Well, we have paracetamol,” you suggest brightly. The build-up of indignation is a great weight down the phone line. “So send me down antibiotics,” they snap. You sweetly explain that antibiotics don’t work on Covid. If they did, there would be no bloody pandemic now, would there? 

Of course, we GPs are tired and a bit post-traumatic. While we were fighting the great floods, we were indispensable. But as the old people said: “Eaten bread is soon forgotten.” Hospital doctors have even less respect for us than they had before. 

“GP to organise; GP to follow-up; GP to put out the bloody cat,” say the letters on our desks every morning. 

The waiting lists have become unfeasibly long, so a patient is kicked-off the list for very little. Take the case of someone who is bipolar. Now, a GP should not manage that; it is beyond our scope. And they miss an appointment. (It often is not their fault, as the hospital is slow to upgrade a new address. And I have had patients discharged for missing an outpatient appointment when they were actually in hospital under the care of the service that called them.) So they are straight away discharged to our care. And we have to waste time writing a referral, telling the service what they know anyway. The patient is in limbo for months. It is a shocking waste of time and resources all round. 

I now have an air purifier. It hums like a happy beehive and the air is as clear as a day in a bog. It makes me and the patients feel safe. The scrubs are great. They are comfortable and colourful and I will never go back. The social media experts who savaged any doctor who publicly recommended that we all follow public health guidelines have gone very quiet. Maybe they have realised that there was a conspiracy all right and they were the ones who fell for it. 

There is currently another surge in Covid cases caused by the BA.2 variant, which is the most transmissible type to date. Antibiotic resistance, loss of biodiversity, and climate change are already among us. Europe is at war, totalitarianism is on the rise in America and Ireland, and the UK is in chaos. But many of us have realised that we have to change and that life cannot go on as before. Maybe, as we clear away the wreckage, for the first time the health for the many will be given greater priority than wealth for the few and we will learn to live in harmony with our poor battered planet. 

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