'We knew it was coming': GP describes working for 'chronically underfunded' NHS amid pandemic

Alexandra Thompson
·6-min read
Exhausted young african doctor sitting in office in front of laptop, having headache, copy space
A GP, who works part-time to prevent burn out, is worried about the mental health of his colleagues amid the pandemic. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

A GP has opened up about working amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The unnamed medic, who is in his 40s, claims the infectious outbreak was “not unusual or unexpected”, but “about time” given the rise in global travel.

The GP, who works in London, has likened the experience to being a “solider at war”, with medics being forced to put themselves at risk to protect the public.

Delays to personal protective equipment (PPE) even resulted in him wearing a cycling mask to work.

With the NHS being “chronically underfunded for over a decade”, the GP anticipated timely PPE would be “a bit of a push”.

Read more: Hospice nurse ‘hit like a brick wall’ during pandemic

While the medic describes himself as “quite resilient”, he works part-time to prevent burn-out.

Concerned about the emotional wellbeing of his colleagues, he has urged anyone who works for the NHS to get help if they are struggling, warning there may otherwise be a surge in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Cyclist commuter wearing a pollution-mask in Central London
A shortage in personal protective equipment prompted the medic to wear a cycling mask to work. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

The GP described working during the pandemic as “interesting but not unusual or unexpected”.

“We knew it was coming; it was a case of what it would be, when it would be, how bad it would be,” he told Yahoo UK.

“There’s so much more global travel, it’s a case of we’ll get more infectious diseases.

“It’s been 100 years since Spanish flu, so it’s about time.”

Initially working as an orthopaedic surgeon, the medic is well versed in infection control, describing it as a “big thing for him”.

“It is like a soldier at war,” he said. “You’ve got to be at the front-line; you’re potentially at risk but you want to help people, so you’re taking on that risk.

“You want to do it as safely as you can, but you’re already so jaded by the lack of support and you know you’ve got to find a way to work through it.”

Read more: Palliative care doctor reassures pandemic ‘will get better’

The GP therefore took it upon himself to buy a cycling mask with an anti-pollution filter.

“We want the support from the NHS, that would be the ideal, but it’s been chronically underfunded for over a decade,” he said.

“There’s not enough money for enough staff, so getting extra equipment is a bit of a push.

“The NHS works on the hard will of the staff and everyone going the extra mile, and finding ways to make things work.”

Watch: Can you catch coronavirus twice?

The GP, who has received his first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, thought he may have caught the infection at the end of 2020.

An at-home antibody test came back negative several weeks ago, however.

Antibodies are immune-fighting proteins released in response to an infection. Once a virus has been overcome, antibodies circulate at low levels in the blood, helping to prevent it taking hold again.

While he balances work with homeschooling his children, the GP admits he has “sighed with despondency” when people break lockdown.

Read more: Doctor with long COVID ‘gets so dizzy he cannot write a letter’

“When the rules keep on changing it makes it difficult to sign up to it,” he said.

“It just ends up causing the situation we’re in at the moment – [first] lockdown two, then that tier 4 business [in London].

“Look where we are now – the NHS overrun and one of the worst death rates in the world.

“It’s saddening; the NHS has a world-class service.”

The UK has the worst coronavirus death rate in Europe and the fifth highest in the world. Since the outbreak was identified, more than 3.7 million Britons have had a confirmed infection, of whom over 103,000 have died.

The GP puts this down to “chronic underfunding and not having enough staff”.

“The only variable I can see is that,” he said.

Scientists from King’s College London recently reported nearly half (45%) of intensive care unit staff “meet the threshold” for severe depression or anxiety, PTSD or problem drinking amid the pandemic.

The GP, who takes a “holistic approach” to emotional wellbeing, is “proactive” in protecting his mental health.

“I don’t want to work for 12 hours, five days a week,” he said. “That’ll just run me down.

“Prevention is better than cure. It’s better to take lots of little steps that all add up.

“I get my patients to do hobbies; exercises that get the mind and body going, and give you some ‘you space’. Also social sports, leaning on others.

“CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] and counselling I think are key, and sometimes medication people need.”

The GP is speaking out to raise awareness of Harley Therapy; which is offering free counselling to anyone with an NHS email address, including administrative staff.

“Nobody wants to let the side down,” he said.

“People come into work even though they’re at breaking point. They’ll be so much extra PTSD.

“If we can nip that in the bud by supporting our fellow staff, hopefully it’ll do a lot of good.”

Dr Sheri Jacobson, the founder of Harley Therapy, added: “All free support sessions are provided by qualified therapists, trained to deal with mental health issues.

“There are appointments available daily, from 7am to 10pm.”

A spokesperson from the department of health and social care told Yahoo UK: “We are determined to support the NHS in every possible way, investing £52bn ($71.3bn) this year and £20bn ($27.4bn) next year to help the health service fight coronavirus and make sure people of all ages can still access the services they need.

“That’s alongside major investment to upgrade and modernise our NHS buildings to help us build back better, meet increased demand and make sure the NHS continues to provide vital care and services in hospital for those who need it.

“We have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect our health and social care staff on the frontline, with over 7.6 billion PPE items delivered so far.

“And there are record numbers of staff in the NHS, including 11,000 more nurses and 6,300 more doctors than this time last year.”

Watch: What is long COVID?