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Retired GPs return as Suffolk coronavirus cases expected to ‘surge’

PUBLISHED: 07:04 05 April 2020 | UPDATED: 11:03 05 April 2020

Dr Nigel Gibbons is one of the GPs returning to work in Suffolk to help during the coronavirus crisis. Picture: NIGEL GIBBONS

Dr Nigel Gibbons is one of the GPs returning to work in Suffolk to help during the coronavirus crisis. Picture: NIGEL GIBBONS

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An army of Suffolk GPs have returned from retirement to help tackle the coronavirus crisis – with cases expected to “surge” in the next week.

The NHS is urging people to stay indoors during the lockdown. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA WireThe NHS is urging people to stay indoors during the lockdown. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

However, GPs coming back have warned of a lack of protective equipment - which means only a “small number” can see Covid-19 patients in person, and only as a “last resort”.

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Dozens of community-spirited doctors heeded a call from the Suffolk GP Federation to return to the frontline to help during the pandemic, as the number of deaths and cases has continued to rise.

In total, 191 people have tested positive for the illness in Suffolk – although with routine testing discontinued, the actual figure is believed to be much higher.

However while the GP Federation has obtained “suitable equipment to enable some limited numbers of face to face consultations”, doctors have said this “needs careful and judicious use”.

Most GPs will just provide telephone advice, with the federation saying doctors will be “concentrating resources they’ve got in the place where they’re needed”.

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Former Woodbridge Road Surgery senior partner Dr Nigel Gibbons, who is one of those returning during the crisis, said: “The big thing we’re worried about is a surge in the next week, possibly beyond Easter.”

More coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Suffolk and Essex Picture: VICTORIA JONES/PA WIREMore coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Suffolk and Essex Picture: VICTORIA JONES/PA WIRE

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Dr Gibbons said a “huge amount of preparatory work has already taken place behind the scenes in all sorts of ways”, such as getting GPs onto a temporary General Medical Council (GMC) register so they can legally work as doctors.

“The whole thrust of this work in the next days and weeks, when there may be a surge of Covid-19 patients, is to try to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, so that it can deliver the best outcomes for the greatest number of people using the resources that we have,” he said.

MORE: All of the coronavirus news in Suffolk

A man in Ipswich wears a face mask to ward off coronavirus - how might life be different once the pandemic is over? Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNA man in Ipswich wears a face mask to ward off coronavirus - how might life be different once the pandemic is over? Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Dr Gibbons said it is crucial ventilators are kept for the people who most need them - “so we don’t suddenly get a surge of deaths of people who could’ve been supported”.

He added that face to face consultations “really should only take place where there is no safe alternative, and as a last resort if a patient has active coronavirus infection.”

Fundamentally though, he said: “It remains paramount for people in their daily lives to be careful about social distancing which can most easily be achieved by staying at home, protecting the NHS and thereby saving lives.”

Dr Gibbons, who has been working intermittently as a locum GP at Deben Road Medical Practice and assisting the Suffolk GP Federation with other projects over the past couple of years, added: “I am motivated to assist further with supporting the workforce, because that is what I have been doing for the last couple of years and now seems to be a time when boosting the workforce can make a real difference.

“I am of an age which is at higher risk of more serious illness from Covid-19, so I am naturally keen to avoid personal risk of catching the infection.

“However, the GP Federation has been taking a lead in helping with systems for safe working and a lot of the anticipated effort in the next days and weeks in primary care may be involving careful telephone assessments and triage - so there are opportunities for returning GPs like me to work remotely, making assessments by telephone and backing up GP surgeries in various ways whilst staying safe.

“The Suffolk GP Federation has already had a large number of contacts from former GPs and a range of former NHS staff, offering to return to help locally, and also from existing NHS staff - for example, some currently working part-time who have offered to increase what they offer.

“This is really praiseworthy. More will always be welcome.”


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