Among Asians, there is an old saying that medics are second to God on earth. Currently their selfless contributions to save people’s lives from coronavirus, without proper gears to protect themselves, indeed make them nothing but indispensable. Upto 65,000 of ex-NHS staff will also go back soon to jobs to help Britain fight this pandemic and the government is asking 250,000 volunteers to step forward to help them. Working long hours, many in intensive care units, these medics often don’t think about their own well-being. And it is not just the physical aspect of it. Mentally, to see people not care about their repeated warnings or requests, then facing the ill without proper gears due to lack of equipment, as well as going home late to an empty fridge or empty supermarket has taken a toll on many of them. Still our national heroes, they stand strong, helping everyone in need, not caring about their own self first.
A junior NHS doctor told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, that she was devastated to receive pictures of packed tube trains in London, as she deals with the consequences of the killer virus in intensive care units. She said that she had conversations with her dying patients and their families, she would have never imagined doing a week ago. On top of that, medics are being sent the wrong personal protective equipment to guard against Covid-19, forcing many of them to take time away from the frontline to get refitted and learn how to use it, The Guardian reported.
Speaking to Asian Voice, Dr Sutapa Biswas, who is a Consultant in Neurodiagnostics, London and a single mum said, “I was emotionally overwhelmed in the first week after work I could not even find a bean in the supermarkets. I was standing in the midst of rows of empty shelves in tears. When the supermarkets opened up early morning slots for NHS, it was still difficult for me because I was doing the school run.
“Schools have been very supportive to the best of their abilities. However, since my children's school only had 4 key-worker children, they have been moved to a bigger school (under the same Trust) where they currently have 100+ such children. This was to save cost and staff safety.
“Therefore it has been difficult for me because the school is quite far from home. However, I am still grateful despite the added stress of school runs, that, at least my children are able to attend school.”
Sutapa who is a specialist and still not in the frontline, will be deployed to A&E if the situation worsens. Speaking about that future scenario, Sutapa added, “My main worry is childcare (because the schools are now closed) and also as I am a single mum with no family in the UK.”
But amidst all these challenges, fighting misinformations and panic, Sutapa is keeping her spirit up and asking people to have faith in the authorities and sticking to reliable sources for informations.
“There are a lot of fake news and hearsay circulating in the media. Posts about DIY sanitisers, who said what etc that are extremely dangerous and I would urge people to please double-check anything before believing.
“I would also urge people to have faith in the authorities and stick to reliable websites.
“My 5 key advice? Be responsible, be positive, stay healthy, be kind and please report any illegal activities to relevant authorities.”
Dr Diana Suresh is a GP and a frontline staff. Speaking to Asian Voice, she said, “As a frontline staff, my employers have been very proactive in preparing for the potential crisis ahead and for the moment we are coping reasonably well. We are doing our best to ensure patient safety and access to medical care though having to consult mostly by phone/video and restrict face to face consults for all but very urgent cases.
“But I have had some problems getting hold of food and basic amenities though have been able to manage with what I have at home so far, and with a few different trips to the shops (by my partner) able to get what we needed.”
When asked if she feels that the government has done enough for the frontline staff, Diana said, “In my opinion the government has been very slow to respond to the potential crisis within the NHS and there has not been enough done to protect frontline staff. Access to adequate PPE (personal protective equipment) still remains an issue, and though we do have some of this available we currently have to reserve this for the patients we think are “high risk” as opposed to just using it as standard for everyone we see. We are all mindful of when or how we use PPE knowing we may run out. Again my employers have been very proactive in seeking further supplies.
“I personally am not worried for my own safety at work, as I have a supportive, well organised and caring employer, but I cannot say the same for many of my hospital-based colleagues.”
A doctor working as an audiological scientist with hearing implants, who did not want to be named told the newsweekly, “Last week when I went to pick up some essentials, the supermarket was empty. The vegetable section only had one onion. My colleagues have had to go to 5 different supermarkets after work to get basic essentials. I am talking about bread, milk etc.
“Although we were seeing patients only in outpatient department (the department has been shut now) we were still at the front line and we did not have any protection. To add salt to injury, we were out stock on antibacterial wipes and hand gels were stolen from within the department! A whole box full of unopened packets (each packet had about 200 wipes) were stolen 2 weeks ago!”
Dr Arpita Ray, a gynaecology consultant, super-specialising in IVF told us that she has been lucky to face no food shortage in their area. “We have closed our clinic for all elective procedures. I am not in the frontline but we are continuing consultation over the telephone. I haven't faced any food shortages so far. I didn't do any panic buying and I think there is enough food for everyone in the UK .
“Everyone needs to follow government advice and order. Public needs to be aware of their responsibility to stop spreading the disease".
But her husband Dr Anirban Mandal, who is a consultant plastic surgeon in North West of England, may have to go in the frontline to support his colleagues. “My husband’s hospital is preparing to control this epidemic. He will possibly part of frontline team to support his colleagues and will act according to guidance.” Arpita’s son's A-level exam got cancelled because of coronavirus outbreak, but she thinks this was an appropriate step in this emergency situation (see story page 11).
Braving the scenario, fighting daily odds, many doctors remain resilient with an indomitable spirit. In videos that are doing the rounds on social media, some are even seen dancing to music during breaks, to keep themselves in good humour. An Indian-origin doctor working in the coronavirus ward here, thinks what they are doing as medics does not need to be called ‘heroic’.
“It is a part of our job,” he told Asian Voice. “There is a lot of hype around Covid-19 and people ‘braving’ it out. But realistically, as doctors this is what we signed up for, when we decided to become medics. If someone did not think about it when they took up medicine as a profession, whenever that was, that is just unfortunate.”
Many of the NHS staff are relying on each other’s support to keep it going, as the pandemic worsens. Speaking to Asian Voice, Dr Amir Khan, a GP, who is also a wildlife enthusiast said, “It is very hard work dealing with patients anxieties and symptoms around Covid-19. We now have to treat every patient regardless of symptoms as a potential case. There is a somber mood amongst the staff, as we know how serious this is, but it’s each other who are getting us through. Generally only NHS staff know what it’s like to treat people and have shared experiences, so we rely on each other to get through hard situations and know when your colleague needs a break or support.”
A recent video from a paramedic showed how supermarket shelves were stripped bare of basic essentials such as fruits and raw vegetables which resulted in an emotional breakdown for her. The doctors, paramedics, nurses among other healthcare professionals at the NHS are already overworked, burnt out and at the risk of contracting the infection as they treat those affected by Coronavirus. Now, consumers’ panic-buying and stock-piling habits have also added to their distress. However, there is a flip side to the UK’s socialistic society where the community has decided to shoulder the weight of the government.
Diabetic patient vulnerable to virus, cooks for NHS in gratitude
A couple in Stoke-on-Trent have started delivering hot food boxes to the NHS healthcare professionals at the Royal Stoke University Hospital in a gesture of gratitude to the health professionals for their dedicated services during such difficult times.
Arpita Patel and her husband Kinjal Patel have started delivering 50 containers of vegetable biryanis to the hospital on a weekly basis and have even started fundraising for the said cause: Feed the NHS. Speaking to Asian Voice, Arpita, owner of Spice Box catering, said,
“I am a diabetic patient on insulin and tablets. I am more susceptible and vulnerable to the virus. So, me and my husband wanted to show our gratitude to the medical staff working long hours at the hospital. After taking permission from the A&E, my husband went shopping for the ingredients, and containers and I started cooking for them.
“Following my first week, I set up a GoFund page and I have successfully raised about £400 from various people for the said cause. Most of it would go into ingredients and disposable plastic boxes and sanitary products and packaging bearing in mind the nature of the virus. Unfortunately, it is difficult for us to recycle these containers at the moment. However, we are intent on donating the surplus money to Diabetes UK.”
In the upcoming weeks, Arpita plans on cooking hot curry and rice besides asking the NHS if they require essential supplies such as milk, bread and pasta among others. The team of two have not engaged a wider volunteer network for the fear of the human chain contracting the virus in any form. They are registered with the local council and have a hygiene rating of five.
Other restaurants and caterers cooking for vulnerable and frontline doctors
Arpita is not the only one in this endeavour. There are various other community efforts in small pockets across the country that is helping the NHS in their own way. In their show of gratitude local restaurants such as the Bombay Central has also recently provided 100 meals for the NHS front line workers at the Northwick Park Hospital. Each of these boxes have messages inscribed on them “We are really proud of you!” and also have disclaimer with allergens contents in the food. This initiative has been hailed by Conservative Party candidate councillor Anjana Patel who thanked Bombay Central for their generous donation.
Additionally, Rangrez restaurant in Hammersmith and Ealing is also providing free food for elderly people beyond the age of 65 years old.
Manan Seva Day Care Centre, Leicester has also started providing hot meals on wheels for just £2.50 for those who are vulnerable and cannot access necessary food items during the lockdown. Their Meals on Wheels services is available seven days a week between 11am-14:30 hours.
Abdul Hamed, who owns Carron to Mumbai in Stonehaven, has also stepped in for the cause and is now asking NHS staff to phone in orders to the restaurant, which is only open for takeaway, with the elderly being offered free food as well.
Desi Dhaba has also successfully delivered 1350 meals plus teas, coffees, fruits to UCL, Royal Free, Barnet, St Albans, Ritz Pharmacy and local residents in Hayes. Now, they will also be covering Barnet residents who live in and around Barnet hospital.
Other large food chains and coffee houses offering discounts to NHS staff include Greggs, Nando's, McDonald’s, Pret A Manger and Cafe Nero among others.
At such a crucial stage, it is time everyone stepped up their efforts in being more tolerant of each other and supporting them mentally, and emotionally. Dr. Dinesh Bhugra, emeritus professor of mental health and cultural diversity at Kings College London told Asian Voice that the onus also lies on the doctor. He said,
“Frontline workers are in serious likelihood to burnout. They may be working long hours and not getting enough rest. It is important to recover from the day by setting time aside for oneself even if it is 10 minutes, listening to music, meditation, yoga, physical exercise chatting with friends and family if possible. If needed diet supplements or vitamins may be added to diet but we need to ensure a sense of proportion.
“Various factors play a role in managing burnout. Employers and organisations need to be aware of the pressures and ensure that time for short breaks is made available. Access to rest places and diet are available. In addition self awareness and self management including relationship management play a role in managing and preventing burnout along with an awareness of structures. Doctors and nurses are not infallible and safe space should be accessible to deal with what they are experiencing.”