Coronavirus: no let-up from NHS bureaucracy

A queue of trucks waiting to deliver food into Wuhan which is under quarantine. (Note the outgoing lanes are empty.)
Trucks queue to deliver food into quarantined Wuhan

With cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus continuing to rise everywhere except China, where the outbreak has peaked and even in Wuhan, the quarantine measures are being lifted, life here in London is continuing surprisingly normally, the only thing that has changed is the increasing difficulty in getting hold of soap, loo roll or certain staple foods such as pasta because of people panic-buying or hoarding it. I misplaced my bottle of hand soap in a workplace loo in Thatcham a couple of weeks ago and have been trying to replace it, to no avail: every branch of the Co-op has run out. Italy, where hundreds have died, has been placed under quarantine with only those with valid work- or family-related reasons are being allowed to travel (though a look at the traffic status of the country’s roads on Google Maps still shows traffic jams and no closures that look like a cordon sanitaire, suggesting that people are still travelling). Here, schools and every other public facility remains open; some people are amazed at our complacency.

I have a medical condition called hypothyroidism or myxoedema. I have had it most or all of my life and have been taking medication (thyroxine) for it every day since I was about four or five years old. I have to have a blood test every year but my dosage has not changed since I was in my teens and that was more than 20 years ago. I get annual prescriptions which I collect every two months from a pharmacy linked to my doctors’ surgery. I currently have a month’s supply, then I have another prescription to collect and I then have to book my medication review and blood test. I’m also a truck driver, doing agency work where I mostly cover for people who are off sick and meet all sorts of people in every part of London and the south-east of England every day. So, I called the surgery today to see if they were doing anything differently given that they don’t want people coming into the surgery (where there are sick people, including the elderly who are most at risk of serious complications from the coronavirus) who might be infected and when it’s not necessary.

So, I was hoping they might just waive the annual review and renew my prescription automatically. (It would be very convenient for me as well as perhaps better for everyone’s health.) But no, the rules say that they cannot bypass the annual review and they are still being conducted as normal. They told me they have some kind of screening to make sure people don’t bring the virus into the surgery, but the best way to avoid bringing it in is not to bring people in when it’s not necessary, given that this virus can be passed on for several days before any symptoms start to show (at the very least, the consultations could be carried out over the phone or online, through one of many readily available video link systems). And as medical staff are likely to have their hands full over the next few weeks, they should not be seeing patients with stable conditions for pointless reviews.

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