When Dr Nikita Kanani was appointed medical director for primary care at the NHS last year, she didn’t imagine she would be in the middle of the pandemic a few months later.
The GP, who still practises in Welling, south-east London, says technology has been a major help in trying to fight coronavirus.
Speaking on Up Close And Socially Distant, Dr Kanani told series host Kate Thornton that the virus had meant escalating a two-year digital plan.
“We had a digital plan for primary care, which was about two years long,” she explained.
“The whole country has been able to switch on a digital offer for everyone, so now if you need care, you can contact your GP either through the website, the telephone, through the app and get the care that you need – and often you can get that all done virtually.
Not only has it meant that GPs can still look after their patients, but that staff are able to work remotely, ensuring that now 99% of the country can offer a virtual consultation.
The other element of technology helping to fight the virus is of course the NHS test and trace app, which Dr Kanani hopes will help us ease lockdown so we can finally reunite with family and friends.
“By properly testing and tracing and isolating people, we hope that we can get society back to a new version of normal,” she told Kate.
“It won't quite be the same – and a level of social distancing will be there for a long time – but by being really vigorous and all of us doing our part, we should be able to get to a place where we can get out more and see our loved ones more, which I know many of us are desperate to do.”
Dr Kanani was keen to remind people that if they’re suffering from any symptoms, whether that’s a cough or anosmia (the loss of smell and taste), then it’s time to self-isolate. She also wants to remind people that GPs are still working and keen to hear from their patients if they are feeling unwell.
“The NHS is still open,” she told Kate. “We'll be delivering care differently, and it might feel and look different. It's still here for you just as it always has been.”
Her major worry is that parents aren’t taking their children to be immunised for other diseases, which could result in a different pandemic down the line.
She told Kate: “What we don't need is a resurgence of something like measles later in the year. Measles is highly contagious and more contagious than coronavirus actually. If people miss their regular routine immunisations, we've got a real and life-threatening issue sort of brewing for the future months.
“What we're asking parents to do, particularly parents for their children and pregnant women for the whooping cough vaccination, is to stick to a vaccination timetable.”
The GP, who still practices at her clinic once a week, said she’s also worried about cancer referrals, so urges anyone with new and “troublesome symptoms that aren’t going away” to contact their local GP.
“It could be a cough that's persisting – and in this environment, you're not quite sure,” she explained. “It could be that your bowel has changed, and you're not quite sure what's going on, or you're bleeding from the back passage, or you're more bloated than usual, or something's wrong with your period.
“We want you to get in touch. We'll do the telephone call first, but we will then sort out a referral if that's what you need.”
She continued: “If you're concerned, please do still contact us, whether that's using 111 over the telephone or online, contacting your GP practice and actually feel really unwell, calling 999 as well if it's a medical emergency. We're still here to help you, so please do use our services.”
Up Close And Socially Distant is hosted by Kate Thornton and features weekly video catch-ups with people who are all doing whatever they can to help those around them get through lockdown.
This week Kate speaks to England Lioness, Jill Scott, MBE, about how her football challenges are keeping children active in lockdown, to Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England and NHS Improvement, Dr Nikki Kanani, and to Strictly Come Dancing singer, Hayley Sanderson, about her work with Women’s Aid and Bede House to help raise the voices of survivors domestic abuse.