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Covid-19 One Year On

Prof Mike Holmes reflects on the past year and how it has been the most difficult year of his career

I’m sure there will be little disagreement when I say that I think that 2020 will be a year that sticks in our collective memory for a very long time, if not for the rest of our lives. As a healthcare professional it has been the most difficult year of my career but it is also a year that has taught me so much. We are now approaching the first anniversary of the introduction of a national lockdown – something that I never thought I’d see in my lifetime – and it is a year that merits some reflection. It would be easy to focus on the politics of the pandemic but I am not going to do that. Whilst I certainly do not underestimate the challenges faced by our politicians I’m sure there will be a time for political analysis in the future – my reflections are going to be much closer to home.

On an individual and family level we have felt a huge change to our lives. Freedoms that we would ordinarily have taken for granted have been restricted. We have faced isolation - some more than others, we have been separated from our loved ones, we have had to work differently and many have been unable to work or lost their jobs. We have faced suffering and bereavement on a scale that most have never experienced before. Schools have been closed, despite huge effort by our teachers, the education of our young people has been impacted. It has genuinely been an annus horribilis by anyone’s standards. What it means to be both human and vulnerable has been brought sharply into focus.

I have also witnessed huge change in the word of healthcare. In General Practice we have seen a complete transformation of how we provide care – we have seen the population embrace technology and the introduction of remote consultations. There are pros and cons to this for sure. However what I have seen is the way that my colleagues have strived to continue to deliver care with compassion despite the difficult circumstances. They recognise that human contact and human relationships are critical to do their job well. There is a sad recognition that we may not be diagnosing, treating and referring all the illness in our community and that we are not able to optimise the wellness of that same community. Something that will need attention in the future. We’ve seen a phenomenal vaccination programme and the emergence of prioritising care according to risk as per the JCVI guidance – I suspect there are lessons to learn for us here as we emerge from the pandemic and try to get the NHS back to normal.

Our hospitals have understandably played a central role in the last 12 months. As a GP I look on this with enormous respect. Our colleagues in this sector have put themselves right in the path of the risk posed by coronavirus to help those who are suffering. Their dedication and commitment have been inspirational, their compassion heart-warming. There has been no real let up throughout the year and they must be exhausted. Nothing we can do whether clapping or pay rises can really be enough to acknowledge their contribution. They have been described as heroic – I’m not sure they are comfortable with that – in my view they are consummate professionals and genuine role models. My hope is that they have inspired thousands of young people to choose healthcare as a career.

One thing I have observed during the pandemic is the level of collaboration that has been apparent particularly in the health and social care sectors. A willingness to support each other and a willingness to say yes. My reflection is that this is, in part, due to the power of a single shared objective to get through the pandemic; to stop people dying from covid and to return to something like normal. There has been a desire to understand each other and a realisation that together we are stronger than the sum of our individual parts. I have seen first-hand, with the vaccination centre in York, just how this collaboration translates into reality and quality of care.

In summary the last year has brought into focus that we are all human and vulnerable but that some in society can be more vulnerable than others. This disease has discriminated and has been more of a risk to older people, people from BAME communities and those living in deprived communities. We have seen that we can adapt, that we can change our behaviour and that we are resilient – no matter how difficult it has been. My sense is this will change our lives forever but that we will come out of it having learned so much.

The 23rd March is a poignant landmark – time for us to acknowledge the suffering and to reflect on our journey. A time for us to recognise we are human, that life really is precious but to be proud of the way we have worked together and cognisant of the power of human relationships. Together we can look forward with hope towards the rest of 2021 and beyond.


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