It was utterly crazy to deny them this service

Hundreds of thousands of hours of clinicians’ time have been wasted as a result of having to sit at home wondering if they have THE virus or just one of the many comparatively harmless bugs that are always doing the rounds.

There is also a risk element resulting from failure to test – and this, combined with the hopeless inadequacy of the quantity and quality of personal protection equipment, has left many NHS workers feeling that they are undervalued and unsafe.

The risk isn’t just to NHS employees.

A recent article in the New Scientist reminded us that ” You could be spreading the coronavirus without realising you’ve got it” … so asymptomatic clinicians could be inadvertently disseminating disease.

The NHS used to look after its own very well but the situation changed a long while ago. For example, when I was a medical student at Addenbrooke’s (the old hospital in the centre of Cambridge) we were very well looked after. We dined in the doctors mess – the food was good and there was never a queue. By the time I did my surgical house job, however, we had transferred to Addenbrooke’s New Site on the northern border of the town and, by this time, it was felt that doctors should be treated in exactly the same way as everyone else. I can understand the thinking behind this change – but what it meant in practice, was that, whilst I was a student and had all the time in the world, I enjoyed comparative luxury whereas by the time I was working flat out (busy all day and every day AND being on call one night and one weekend in two – when we often didn’t get any sleep) getting fed was a real problem. We had to join a very long queue in the communal dining room and the usual outcome was that, just when you had got within smelling distance of the food, your bleep went off and you had to traipse off to deal with a patient who’d run into trouble. This was good for the soul but very, very damaging to morale.

Back in the ‘bad old days’ if NHS clinicians had a problem they could usually be slipped in with a consultant to get a quick opinion and they’d be back in action in no time. Once the system changed, however, many of them mouldered away at home for months whilst waiting their turn for treatment – which meant that the health service was (a) denied their skills and (b) was simultaneously having to pay their wages AND pick up the massive cost of the agency staff who were brought in to do their work. Because this only affected a moderate number of clinicians at any one time this didn’t come to the attention of the public and so there was never an outcry – and no pressure was brought to review the situation.

During the current pandemic, however, a large chunk of the workforce has had to self isolate with no way of accessing testing – so they’ve been in the dark as to their diagnosis. Meanwhile the NHS has been having to make do without them – and, because so many have been affected at any one time and there aren’t replacements to fill the gaps, this has made the headlines. It looks at long last as if something will be done to change the situation for the better. The people running the NHS are waking up to reality – if clinicians are off sick then they leave a gap in the service which has an inevitable detrimental effect on patient care. When the NHS looks after the people providing the service, they can look after you.

They need to be better treated – and they will be, I hope, as a result of the outpouring of goodwill that the current pandemic has engendered.

Dr. John Cormack