I hope this message finds you well in these difficult times.
The past few days have seen a number of announcements which may help us to envisage what an exit from lockdown looks like. We now know that there is evidence of passing through the peak of the pandemic, albeit a flat one, and that there is still capacity within our health service. Exit from the lockdown will only occur when there is a sustained reduction in hospital admissions and deaths. But there is now a feeling that things are under control and the exit can be planned.
It is clear that social distancing will need to be in place for at least a year and during this time there will be extensive testing, tracing and isolation. This means that we will be hoping to contain the spread of infection while a vaccine or effective treatments are developed. In the meantime, life will be full of stops and starts as we gradually reopen businesses and amenities which will predispose us to a greater risk of infection.
As widespread testing is rolled out, people who are found to be positive for Covid 19 will be isolated for up to 2 weeks. As will anyone that they have contacted and in this way outbreaks of infection should be contained. By this method, it is anticipated that a second wave will be prevented which is critical as the winter approaches and the normal influenza season takes hold.
There will be no mass gatherings for the foreseeable future, including sporting events or conferences of any kind and international travel is unlikely to resume this year to any great extent
Businesses may well have to change the working week in order to enable social distancing and prevention of a twice a day rush hour. This may mean a 7 day working week with workers being asked to spread their shifts and days through the week. This will enable the economy to get going whilst keeping Covid under control.
Schools may reopen but pupils will be attending in such a way as to reduce class sizes and protect teachers from infection. Inevitably, life will be much slower for some time to come.
BUT WHAT OF HEALTHCARE?
The health service is doing an incredible job of treating Covid patients. However, there is a wider impact on other non Covid patients who have not gained access to medical care in the same way. There is an accumulating backlog of around 2,000,000 patients who will need to be prioritised in the coming months. This will be a significant challenge and will inevitably result in a change in the way we see patients in the future. The increase in remote consultations which is taking place will become a permanent legacy of the Covid pandemic. Medicine has yet to work out how this will play out in terms of assessing patients clinically prior to instigating treatments.
The link between the NHS and the private sector will be sustained. A balance will need to be struck in order that private medicine can develop whilst at the same time nurturing the NHS until Covid 19 is defeated. Longer waiting times will be the new norm not just in the NHS but also in the private sector.