We need to get through this together

By Dr Niruban Ratnarajah


Coronavirus has presented every aspect of society with huge and unprecedented challenges, and your local NHS is no exception.

Demand for primary care has rocketed, and GPs and medical staff are working hard.

Obviously there’s Covid-19 and the vaccination programme to carry out, but people are still having the same health problems they have always had, and they understandably want those to be treated.

An early decision was made during the pandemic to make a major shift to online services. This was to protect patients and staff from the risk of contracting – and spreading - Covid-19 in crowded waiting rooms.

Now 18 months on, we are dealing with a mix of online, telephone and video consultations, and face-to-face appointments.

Many patients welcome the online and telephone options: they can contact their GP practice at a time that suits them, and they don’t have to take time off work or arrange childcare to attend. It also helps to reduce waiting times.

Others, though, want to see a doctor in person – and I fully understand that. So let me make it clear – face-to-face appointments are available to patients where there is a clinical need.

When they call, patients will be asked to discuss their symptoms over the phone or online. This will establish what advice or treatment would be most appropriate, and which health professional could provide it: whether that be a nurse, physio, pharmacist, doctor or someone else.

Receptionists are trained to do this. They are not being nosey, but using their skills and knowledge to direct you to the most suitable service. And, in many cases, this does not require meeting a GP.

At this time especially, they are under a great deal of strain – and, I am dismayed to note, the level of abuse they are receiving has increased. This is completely unacceptable, and is certainly not what they signed up for.

As in all walks of life, health service staff are not perfect. But I know that staff are leaving the profession due to a combination of overwhelming workload and the shameful way they are treated by a minority of people. This is especially worrying, as we head into another winter with coronavirus still at large and the usual seasonal ailments such as flu on their way.

We need the support of the public just like they need ours. More than ever, we need patience and understanding to ease the pressure and get through these challenges together.

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