Covid-19: NHS staff are braced for difficult times ahead. Please stay at home – Dr Lewis Morrison

In this fight against coronavirus, NHS staff are there for you, please be there for us too, writes Dr Lewis Morrison of BMA Scotland.
A family joins in the applause for the NHS in Glasgow (Picture: John Devlin)A family joins in the applause for the NHS in Glasgow (Picture: John Devlin)
A family joins in the applause for the NHS in Glasgow (Picture: John Devlin)

“What is it really like on the frontline of the NHS?” is a question that I’m asked repeatedly at the moment. I understand the interest in what it’s like and what that means for the country as a whole, as this crisis pans out.

This has been called a fight, with coronavirus as the enemy. If so, hospitals and GP surgeries are the front line, and healthcare workers the troops.

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Pandemics are not new. We have just been very lucky not to see one on this scale for a century. There is really no-one left to tell us what it’s like to live through one. At a basic level, this is what viruses do. They don’t think. They aren’t fighting us, they just are. But knowing that doesn’t help.

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So, if the fight comparison is a good one, then how to cope and how to win? In that respect we can’t just on focus on healthcare. This is a whole Scotland battle. All communities and all of us as individuals will play their part.

That means everyone needs to stay at home. Socially distance. Improving weather makes that tougher, but we must stick to it.

That is what will blunt the weapons of Covid-19. And it will have a major effect on what it will be like on the NHS frontline.

Remarkable and humbling

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Where I work, we are starting to see cases really rise. The last four weeks have been a roller-coaster of changes and decision after decision to get us ready. I’ve never seen the NHS respond like this. It’s remarkable and humbling what has been done. We want to be as ready as we can be, but it will be hard.

As chair of BMA Scotland, I hear that story from across the country. Cases are increasing, ICUs are filling up, but we have a way to go before we feel the full force of this.

Right now, some colleagues are stoical, others are apprehensive, and I will admit I am already just a wee bit weary. But we get up, we go to work, and we do what we have to.

We have had a window to make sure everything is in place before we do reach an expected peak: the right and sufficient PPE, today, tomorrow, next week and so on; and increasing staff testing, for reassurance for healthcare staff and their families, and to allow them to get back to work.

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After a slowish start, we are seeing progress following a concerted effort by government and health boards, with perhaps just a wee bit of encouragement from those of us who represent the NHS workforce. There is more to do and we’ll keep monitoring the position; government has promised to listen to where the glitches are and “sort it”.

Tough clinical decisions

Difficult times lie ahead. The toughest of clinical decisions will more than likely need to be made in difficult circumstances for everyone. I am used to that as a geriatrician, looking after the most fragile patients, but similar decisions will probably need to be made more often, by many of my colleagues, confronted by increasing numbers of very sick patients.

The NHS is working in a different way just now, and we are grateful for your patience and understanding during this strange and worrying time.

The applause ringing out from doorsteps across Scotland on Thursdays is hugely welcome. Because doctors are human too. Behind the professionalism we are not made of stone. No decision will be taken lightly, and we will always do our best for patients and their families. We’ll be there for you – but we need you to be there for us too. Stay safe. Stay at home. We will get through this.

Dr Lewis Morrison is chair of BMA Scotland