Shropshire GP tells of Covid-19 fear over PPE issues

A GP has told how he was scared of catching Covid-19 at the start of the pandemic due to PPE issues – and how thousands of patients a day have been desperately calling for a vaccine.

Dr Jamie Malcolm
Dr Jamie Malcolm

Dr Jamie Malcolm, 51, a partner at Market Drayton GP Practice, said he was worried for his own safety when coronavirus first surfaced due to primary care workers' protective equipment being less stringent to the hospital clinicians' equivalent.

He wears a thin plastic apron, rather than a gown, with gloves, standard mask and visor.

In a meeting with Shrewsbury Severn Rotary Club, Dr Malcolm said he developed a persistent fever early last year, but no cough. Later, a blood test confirmed Covid antibodies.

He said: “I was worried we wouldn’t have enough oxygen and the huge dilemmas facing us professionally. I was terrified of it initially, going to work in a pair of pyjamas with a mask and a flimsy apron.

“I was scared in March last year and repeatedly climbing stairs wearing a pulse oximeter. I remember being frozen cold, I had no cough, but I was positive and thankfully got better.”

He also described how consulting remotely was a shock to the system. NHS England instructed GP practices to implement a Total Triage System that would allow clinical staff to work remotely to protect patients and staff from risk of infection in mid-March.

“We all had to learn very quickly how to consult remotely,” he said.

Before the March lockdown last year, about 70 or 80 per cent of GP appointments were face-to-face. During the first lockdown, about 65 per cent of GP appointments were by telephone or video.

However, by mid-March this year the proportion had adjusted to 54 per cent telephone/video and 46 per cent face-to-face.

Since the vaccine rollout started Dr Malcolm's practice has been busier than ever and fewer doctors' appointments have been available, with the clamour for jabs taking over.

“In April we had 2,000 incoming calls per day to our surgery with a list size of about 18,000 patients," he said. "Access to appointments is compounded by our doctors and nurses being deployed to deliver Covid vaccinations."

He also told of the pressures of being given a week’s notice to complete second Covid vaccinations for cohorts 1-9 by May 24.

He added: “We reorganised physical space for patients to be seen in person – our building was never closed – and staggered appointment times to minimise patient interaction/contact. We ask patients to wait in their cars until we phone them to enter for a blood test.”

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