The coronavirus pandemic has been compared to war time. In many ways this is true. In the coming months there will be real human pain and suffering, loss of life and every part of our society is going to be affected. The NHS and emergency services, which were already stretched to their limits, are going to have to go even further to protect everyone. Basic needs will take priority: access to food, water, sanitation, safe streets and essential services will become more important. The key role of people providing these services must be recognised.
But there is one thing that makes this a very different situation to war time. Our enemy is not an organisation of people that is setting out to harm us. It cannot be reasoned or bargained with. This virus simply seeks to replicate itself, and unfortunately it can cause harm and potentially death of the human it infects as it does so. Fortunately in this war everyone is fighting on the same side. We should be doing everything we can to take advantage of this fact.
The principles of how to reduce the spread are clear, but putting it into practice is more difficult. I have had to have difficult conversations with my own friends and family in an attempt to explain the gravity of what is going on in our communities and hospitals at the moment. It is hard to imagine it if you’re not seeing it. The seemingly remote government advice does relate to you, your friends and family. When it does become personal it might be too late to do anything about it.
People will die purely because resources in intensive care are limited. Patients who ordinarily might have had a trial of critical care may not be offered treatments due to demand. There simply won’t be enough ventilators, oxygen, medications and space for these patients. There won’t be enough healthcare staff to look after them even if there were unlimited facilities and equipment. In different circumstances people who may have survived the illness caused by coronavirus might not get the care they need to pull through.
For this reason we need to do all we can to comply with social distancing advice (if you are well and asymptomatic), and isolation advice (if you have symptoms, or live with someone who does). The fewer people who contract the virus at one time and require hospitalisation means our NHS might have a fighting change to offer the right treatment to every patient.
But the scariest truth is this disease can be lethal to nearly anyone. Regardless of race, age and other illness. Yes, certain people are more vulnerable, but no one is invulnerable.
Healthcare workers themselves are scared, and with good reason. Sadly NHS staff have already lost their lives in the battle to help patients. Provision of protective equipment is another worrying area. As a healthcare worker this is essentially our armour, and there have been problems with frontline workers accessing the basic equipment we need to keep us and our families safe. This is unacceptable, and in my eyes is very revealing of the way the NHS has been prioritised by politicians in recent years.
As doctors we fundamentally want to make people better. Unfortunately this isn’t always possible, even in different circumstances unaffected by coronavirus. When we can’t cure people the next best thing is supporting patients and their families during the difficult time when curative treatment isn’t an option. The thing that really scares me is that Covid-19 is even taking this away from our patients and their families. Because of how infectious coronavirus is most hospitals cannot allow families to visit patients even in their final days. As a doctor, denying people of this time feels cruel and weighs heavily. How could it not? But on a personal level, I struggle to even imagine being on the other side and not able to see a loved one while they were unwell.
Throughout this pandemic healthcare professionals will continue to be there to support our patients. To treat them, cure them, and reassure and comfort them when their families might not be able to as they usually would. All we ask is that everyone play their part and do everything they can to minimise the amount of people catching the virus in the first place. Please do what you can to protect our NHS, yourselves and your families.
People are naturally going to look forward to things returning to normal. But I hope that when this is over our government will prioritise health in a way that it wasn’t before, and that the hard lessons learnt during this pandemic are not forgotten.