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A DOCTOR treating patients with coronavirus symptoms says the outbreak could change the NHS forever.

Craig Smith, who has more than 20 years’ experience of working as a GP in Lanarkshire, believes most practices will change the way they do things and there will be increased pressure on hospitals and mental health services once the coronavirus crisis is over.

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“When this passes, general practice will adapt as it always has done, but we will have a backlog of conditions we have not been able to deal with because of coronavirus,” said Dr Smith, who is from East Kilbride.

“Hospitals will have even longer waiting lists as they catch up with cancelled appointments and we will have mental health issues to deal with as we all readjust to normality.”

He added: “I think most practices will change how they do things, especially making more use of telephone and video consultations, something we have rapidly learned over the past few weeks.”

Dr Smith, whose wife Liz is a nurse, says the pandemic has had a huge impact on his own life already.

“We have three teenage children and I think it hit home to them when I said I had seen someone with coronavirus,” he added.

“Two of our doctors have symptoms and one of the staff has been sent home for 12 weeks.

“At that point, I think they realised both of their parents were potentially seeing patients with the virus and were at risk.”

Dr Smith said things started to change quickly three weeks ago, when his practice, where he has been a partner since 1999, introduced compulsory hand sanitising and telephone consultations for patients.

“We had to very rapidly reduce the number of people in the building, and shortly after, moved to telephone triage only,” he explained.

“It was stressful, as we had to make judgements about conditions without examining people, which can be fraught with difficulties. It is particularly difficult with mental health patients and we are concerned for those in self-isolation for so many weeks.”

A part of the building was designated for patients with respiratory problems.

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“It meant we had to wear surgical scrubs, as well as PPE- mask, gloves, eye protection and aprons,” said Dr Smith. “That is completely alien to general practice, and can be frightening for patients.

“It brought home to us the enormity and scale of the problem facing us. We are worried, too, about patients who will not come to us with other concerns, and that at the end of this we will see late presentations of serious conditions.”

Dr Smith paid tribute to the practice team.

“We have a good group of doctors and an excellent practice manager, nurses, admin and reception staff who have all changed their working patterns or filled in for colleagues when needed ,” he said.

“Our patients have been really understanding and we have had great support from local businesses, who have rallied round by sending in food and hand sanitisers.”

He added: “We are a training practice for new GPs and, of course, their training has also been affected but they, too, have responded very well to new ways of working and have all pitched in. General practices are small organisations and can adapt quickly.

“Our main aim is to keep patients away from the hospitals as much as we can to protect the front line staff.”

Dr Smith paid a heartfelt tribute to hospital workers.

“The frontline doctors and nurses are the real heroes in all of this – they are the ones seeing most of the cases and dealing with the stress,” he says.

“In general practice, we will do our bit to keep our patients at home to protect the hospitals.”

He adds: “In the wider community, it is absolutely essential that people stay at home.”

Dr Smith says he hopes once the outbreak is over, people will understand more about how the NHS operates.

“I hope people will understand the NHS has finite resources, that many minor ailments and conditions don’t need dealt with by GPs or A&E,” he said. “I hope they will appreciate their health, and the NHS, even more.”