‘Worst illness I’ve ever had’ says former RCGP chair recovering from COVID-19

A former RCGP chair left bedbound for three days by COVID-19 has called for a stop to bureaucratic tasks so that 'heroic' GPs can get on with supporting patients during the coronavirus outbreak.

Professor Clare Gerada (Photo: Pete Hill)
Professor Clare Gerada (Photo: Pete Hill)

Professor Clare Gerada, who in 2010 became the first woman for 50 years to chair the RCGP, was left bedbound for three days after contracting COVID-19 during a trip to New York last week.

Describing it as the ‘worst illness I've ever had’, Professor Gerada said the virus left her communicating with her husband via telephone as she self-isolated in her bedroom.

The former RCGP chair says she is ‘more or less back to normal’, but has expressed concern over GP workload during the coronavirus pandemic - insisting that hesitation to suspend QOF was 'adding pressure' on the system.

GP workload

With the CQC announcing the immediate suspension of routine GP surgery inspections, Professor Gerada has called on NHS England to follow suit by suspending QOF work to free up GP time - highlighting the benefits to both patients and staff.

NHS England, she said, also needed to make it easier for practices to merge temporarily and work together, with some premises closing during a widespread outbreak in the UK to help GPs deal with staff shortages.

A further 19 patients died on 16 March after being infected with coronavirus - taking the UK death toll to 53. A total of 1,534 cases have been confirmed UK-wide - nearly one in three of them in London.

Speaking to GPonline, Professor Gerada said: 'It was like the worst illness I have ever had, like the worst flu I’ve had. But I'm very rarely ill, so I've got very few things to compare it with.'

Self-isolation

‘I was bedbound for three days and had to isolate from my husband - he’s been downstairs all week. So we’ve been communicating on the telephone - luckily we've got separate bathrooms.

‘I did read the death rate halfway through [my illness], and looked at how many people over 60 die, but it was very, very little. Plus I have no underlying health conditions, so I knew I was in that fit group.

‘Then I started to recover gradually. But the recovery was in reverse of the illness, so slowly the temperature went down, the cough disappeared and now all I'm left with, really, is at night just coughing and I have some mucosal ulcers across my nose,’ she said.

Having almost fully recovered, the former RCGP chair said she was planning to take ‘a couple more days’ off before returning to practice next Monday. She encouraged clinicians who contracted the illness not to ‘rush back’ to work.

Coronavirus

The CQC has suspended all routine inspections ‘during the period of the pandemic’, after calls from the BMA and RCGP to take ease pressure on practices.

Describing the announcement as ‘a silver lining’, Professor Gerada said more had to be done to support GPs over the coming weeks - identifying QOF and practices linking up as key factors.

‘I think QOF has to be suspended. It adds pressure on the system - suspending it would free up doctor time. It’s also a sort of danger to patients coming in who might be susceptible [to the virus].

‘We can’t be seeing patients in surgery routinely, plus we're asking the elderly to stay away, so we can't have it both ways. I think this will rapidly change.'

GP collaboration

Professor Gerada added: 'We will have to merge practices. What I'm thinking is that you see routine patients in one [practice], which is much easier to clean, to contain and then close the other.

‘It seems a nonsense, that if you've got lots of practices in an area that are open with the footfall decreasing considerably, but also with staff going off on sick leave. You can't run a practice on tiny numbers of staff.’

Professor Gerada also backed the government’s proposals to ask retired GPs, who had been out of work for two to three years, to return to practice, but urged ministers to get moving with plans.

‘I think it's a wonderful idea. I think it's a great idea because in a crisis we all love to help out. [The government] needs to get it done soon because I think it's important that we have got some clarity and I think lots of retired doctors will be quite happy to come back for a short period of time and help out.’

Wessex LMCs chief executive Dr Nigel Watson has called on the government to ‘get a move on’ with plans to recall retired doctors to bolster the NHS workforce during the coronavirus outbreak.

How have you or your practice been affected by coronavirus? Get in touch with GPonline in confidence at gponline@haymarket.com

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