As doctors, we make a promise to protect our patients from harm.
But over the past few months, I have become deeply concerned that, as a coalface GP, I have risked breaking that pledge.
It’s not through any real choice of my own. Rather, it’s what I – and many of my colleagues – have come to realise about the Government’s pandemic response and the effect it is having on the nation’s health.
Because with the lion’s share of NHS resources still taken up by this one virus, so many other areas of healthcare are falling by the wayside.
And, more than that, the harm that the lockdowns themselves are causing people is becoming increasingly obvious.
As doctors, we make a promise to protect our patients from harm, writes Dr Ellie Cannon (pictured)
By toeing the party line, and blithely carrying on, uncritical of this situation, I feel that we medics are becoming complicit in actions that are extraordinarily damaging.
I’m seeing it with my own eyes, day in, day out.
The patients who suffer heart attacks and those with advanced cervical or breast cancers that might have been picked up earlier through screening.
I’ve seen a huge drop in numbers attending childhood vaccination clinics, and it chills me to think of the risk posed to these youngsters from things such as measles, as well as less common, more lethal viruses and infections.
And then there are the suicides – the ultimate consequence of untreated mental health problems exacerbated by unemployment, money worries and the isolation and misery of lockdown measures.
I feel duty-bound to speak up, and so, three weeks ago, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, setting out my worries.
Writing to the Department of Health – the ultimate boss of GPs – isn’t a usual thing for a GP to do. I’d never done so before, but I felt I had to let them and their advisers know what I and other GPs were witnessing.
I feel duty-bound to speak up, and so, three weeks ago, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, setting out my worries, writes Dr Ellie Cannon
Of course, the Government is, as it claims, ‘following the science’. But it is only with help from those on the front line that researchers know what to investigate.
In my letter, I provided Mr Hancock with the latest statistics that prove increasing heart disease rates while we continue not to offer basic heart health checks, rising rates of child abuse injuries and the declining physical health of the elderly.
Older adults and youngsters have, incidentally, also suffered more anxiety and depression during lockdown.
These are hard facts, and within a few days I’d managed to corral 65 of my colleagues – influential GPs in their own right – to add their signature to the letter. One, Sir Sam Everington, has a knighthood for services to primary care.
I went on national TV and radio to share our message, and gained the support of MPs, including Steve Baker, and our letter was shared many thousands of times on social media. Finally, I felt optimistic. Over the past eight months I’ve even worked for the Government myself, sharing messages about the importance of handwashing and mask wearing. I hoped we would be heard.
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On Monday, I got my reply, signed not by Mr Hancock himself but one of his advisers on his behalf. Or perhaps it was someone on work experience – I’m not sure. Disheartening doesn’t even begin to cover it. In fact, I’m still seething.
For starters, sections of the response had been cut and pasted.
‘The coronavirus outbreak is the biggest public health emergency in a generation,’ began one paragraph. ‘It calls for dramatic action, at home and abroad, of the kind not normally seen in peacetime.’
I recognised the grandiose turn of phrase immediately – it had been lifted from an article written by Mr Hancock back in March.
Needless to say, the overall gist of the reply was dismissive.
It blathered on: ‘Ministers understand these are difficult times and the measures people are being asked to take are very disruptive to normal life.
‘However, it is vital those who are most vulnerable be protected, and people are therefore being asked to act in the interests of everyone in society.’
This, I discovered, was actually a statement previously attributed to Junior Health Minister Nadine Dorries, which was printed in a local newspaper article on October 6. Word for word.
How belittling. What contempt, and lack of regard or respect that Mr Hancock clearly has for his own GPs, to allow such a response.
But, beside this, it also says something chilling. Confronted with proof that his Covid plan is actually hurting, even killing, he clearly feels he is unanswerable and can simply carry on with impunity.
How devoid of human empathy must the man responsible for all of our healthcare be?
More cut and paste lines, this time from a parliamentary speech he made on May 22. I was told funding has been increased to mental health charities, presumably in response to our concerns about suicides.
Day in, day out, I speak to patients anxious and depressed due to job loss, bereavement and fear – because they’ve been scared witless of leaving the house by daily death bulletins, doom-laden predictions and horrific Government adverts depicting the virus as terrifying green slime covering our faces.
I’ve seen a huge drop in numbers attending childhood vaccination clinics, and it chills me to think of the risk posed to these youngsters from things such as measles, as well as less common, more lethal viruses and infections, writes Dr Ellie Cannon. Pictured: Stock image
Mr Hancock’s letter claimed that ‘understandable worries about the virus, combined with not wanting to be a burden on NHS staff, has meant that some people have not come forward for care’. So it’s all the patients’ fault?
Absolutely not. For instance, ECGs, which are vital for diagnosing heart disease, chest X-rays that can pick up lung cancer and even children’s blood tests should all be easy to offer at hospital clinics, but they have been suspended in my area of London.
In one hospital nearby, the paediatric emergency department has closed down due to Covid ‘until further notice’. If these services are not available, how can people come forward for help?
Predictably, they wheeled out a slogan – one that they were circulating back in April: ‘The NHS is open for business.’ This simply shows the Government has completely broken with reality.
Only last week I had to explain to patients seeking arthritis treatment, cataract surgery, physiotherapy and investigations for their children that they either have to wait, go privately, give up, or travel much further than is practical or possible.
I will continue to do everything in my power to change this situation – but ultimately, I’m just one GP.
Don’t think for a minute I’d advocate letting the virus rip. But there has to be a middle way – one in which we aren’t trading one health threat for many others.
As for Mr Hancock, well, I have nothing left to say. I fear there may be no treatment for what’s wrong with him.
I wonder what oath politicians like him operate under? What guiding set of principles?
My political contacts tell me he is a man who wants to be liked. Maybe that’s why, although too busy to respond with any thought to the concerns of his own GPs, he finds time to appear on countless TV news programmes.
So I take small comfort in knowing, when all this is done, in the inevitable public inquiry that will follow, he will undoubtedly be hung out to dry.
And he will be remembered for the callous way he preened and made hollow statements, claiming nothing he was doing could possibly be wrong while ignoring the true health crisis this country is now facing – one which is the fault of the Government itself.