Q&A: GP hails isolation measures as virus is kept in check

Monday 20th April 2020 12:03 pm
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The Easter bunny was one of those to put his customary hop through Farnham town centre on hold this year (photo: Branston Adams) ()

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GOING into the Easter weekend, there were positive signs the rate of new coronavirus cases was beginning to slow after strict lockdown measures came into force last month – so there was only one place to begin our latest interview with Dr Ed Wernick, the GP leading Farnham’s Covid-19 response.

* Hi Ed, last week you told us the trajectory of new coronavirus cases was beginning to “flatten” – how is it going a week later?

"It’s all going pretty well, actually. We were expecting between 80 and 100 new cases a day in Farnham over the Easter weekend, and it’s been about ten per cent of that."

* Wow – why is that?

"There are two main factors. Firstly the NHS 111 service, which has expanded its service to include the option of a GP assessment. These are mainly filled by the returning retired doctors, and means 111 is better able to triage patients between going to hospital or self-managing at home. The end result is fewer referrals to primary care.

"Secondly, the social distancing and isolation guidance is being embraced and really working, meaning the total number of Covid cases are fewer than predicted.

We’re very confident we could have coped with the peak, as predicted. But even in A&E, we’re not seeing the numbers we were expecting, which is absolutely fantastic. So it looks like the peak has been flattened but it is no time to relax."

* A new ‘drive-through’ assessment facility was set up at Farnham Hospital last week. How is that working?

"Really well. By seeing patients outdoors there’s less chance of any viral contamination, and patients are happier because they don’t have to go into a hospital setting. It’s also faster for the patients and doctors to use, so we can see more patients if needed. The town council and Farnham Lions Club are also now managing the car park, so that’s working very well too."

* How else are GPs adapting?

"We’ve bolstered capacity for our home visiting service. The vast majority of our consultations are now done over the phone or by video link. And we’re also supporting Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust by putting four GPs on the wards at Farnham Hospital, allowing the trust to repatriate their consultants and nursing team to help out in the intensive care unit at Frimley Park."

* Any unexpected challenges?

"The IT is proving challenging. Just simple things like moving WiFi points around, and setting up laptops to use outside in the drive-through. Everyone is doing things for the first time, but everyone is pulling together to help, and we’re overcoming the challenges."

* South West Surrey MP Jeremy Hunt has said community testing could be the key to relaxing the lockdown measures. Is that happening yet?

"Two tests are being looked at. One is the actual viral test, testing whether you have the virus within your system. The other is testing whether you have the immunity and the antibodies.

"I haven’t heard any recent update as to when the antibody test will be available. But I know there’s increased capacity for the viral testing. That’s certainly been the case in Farnham, and we can request that specific doctors have the test, meaning GPs have been able to return to work on day four after a negative test rather than remaining isolated for up to 14 – that is a huge improvement to capability and capacity."

* Are you offering any additional support to care homes?

"We highlighted a couple of weeks ago that we didn’t think locally there had been enough focus on care homes. All the patients in those homes are extremely vulnerable and in the high-risk group. But they didn’t have access to the personal protective equipment (PPE) in the same way it was being sourced and offered to hospitals. But there is a focus on that now.

"Locally, we’re working with the district nurses and Virgin Care, and we’re doing proactive ward rounds weekly for our care homes, and are day-to-day responsive to their needs.

"All the residents in our care homes have also had a proactive care assessment to review their medication, care plans, and the limit of care one would want to receive."

* Have our GPs got enough PPE?

"We haven’t had any shortage of PPE in primary care, and we’ve never had to compromise in that way.

"I have been told All Hallows School have been making visors, which is just incredible."

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