A GP surgery has had to rely on the kindness of a foreign medical student who sent dozens of H95 masks to protect ill equipped staff working in conditions likened to a war.
The next week will see the battle to save lives in London with the Covid-19 death toll expected to significantly rise in the days ahead.
Doctors surgeries will be on the frontline but NHS guidelines say staff working in general practice don’t need the same level of protection as hospital staff.
Dr Agnelo Fernandes, of the Parchmore Medical Centre, said it is causing ‘anxiety’ and ‘stress’ amongst doctors who are being dispatched in to the community to treat coronavirus with just basic protection.
The practice like many others has also experienced a third of its staff either having to work from home or go in to self isolation; including three doctors who can’t go back to work because of the testing delays.
Parchmore has been fortunate enough to have secured 60 of the N95 masks which offer more protection because they are tight-fitting, filter out airborne particles and are able to be cleaned. They were sent by a Chinese student who had worked on attachment at the practice and was concerned by the reports that British doctors only had access to basic masks.
Dr Fernandes said: “We are really grateful for the masks but it doesn’t stop the anxiety really because regardless of having the right mask we don’t have the right gowns or overalls and have to rely on flimsy plastic aprons. Even the painter and decorator overalls they have in Screwfix would be better as they cover the whole body.
“If staff go to a home where a patient is coughing or near the end of life there is a great risk of contamination. It is a frightening time for doctors in general practice seeing dozens of their colleagues dying in Italy and Spain and now here. We are also managing patients with Covid-19 who have been discharged from hospital.”
Another Croydon practice has received protective eye visors from the Whitgift school after an IT teacher turned the school’s 3D printer to good use.
Dr Fernandes stressed that the PPE should be prioritised for carers in nursing homes and funeral staff as well. He appealed to businesses to help.
He added: “This is a war. Just because people can’t see bombs dropping or buildings being blown up they can’t accept that it’s for real but seeing the amount of people dying on a daily basis is quite disconcerting and a real huge psychological blow.
“Yes, in the NHS we are used to seeing people die but people at the end of life not on this scale. That’s why the message about staying at home is so important. Everyone has to play a part in blunting that peak so that the NHS wont be overwhelmed in the weeks ahead.”
He said the next week would be critical and that ‘no one’ should be ‘complacent’, adding: “The experience from Italy is that initially it was effecting old and vulnerable with pre-conditions but now we are seeing a lot of young people also.”
Earlier this week 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, from Brixton was youngest to die from Covid-19.
Dr Fernandes also relayed a personal story of how a friend of his wife, who was in her 50s, had succumbed to the virus and died alone in hospital without the comfort of her family because of the restrictions.
“A wife and husband did not get to say goodbye,” he said. He also fears the long term mental health impact it will have on the bereaved with funeral farewells also restricted in this crisis.
He said GP’s were not just focusing on ‘my job, my role’ but the bigger picture; supporting colleagues on 111, in hospitals and London Ambulance Service to “maximise saving lives.”
He likened the effort to the Dunkirk spirit adding:“The response I have had from patients has been amazing, with 99 per cent ending every phone call with ‘take care of yourself doc.’”
He said he had been really touched by acts of kindness like Tesco workers giving out flowers to NHS staff on Mother’s Day and a letter from a five-year-old thanking staff for putting ‘their lives on the line’.
He added: “These gestures from the public are having a marvellous effect. They give NHS workers that extra ‘oomph’ to carry on and really make a difference.”