Watch: Meridian In Conversation with Dr Gaurav Gupta, General Practitioner at Faversham Medical Practice and the chairman of the Kent Medical Community about the first lockdown anniversary
Tuesday marks one year since the UK went into its first lockdown in the fight against Covid-19.
The UK is marking the day as a day of reflection, remembering those who we have lost and the lessons learned.
One sector that struggled to deal with the demand in change was the NHS. The organisation has dealt with its most difficult challenge to date, helping millions of people recover from an unknown disease and finding a 'new way' of working.
Fred and Sangeeta were 'In Conversation' with Dr Gaurav Gupta, speaking about that first lockdown from March 2020, the sudden realisation that the world was in the midst of a pandemic and the people who fell through the cracks.
Dr Gupta, thank you so much for joining us. It's been a remarkably hard year. What can you remember from those first couple of months?
Initially, a lot of surprise, a lot of anxiety and stress about how to keep ourselves, our family and our staff and patients safe. As time went by, we became more familiar with the pandemic, for example the struggled with PPE and making sure the staff are adequately protected.
As a medic, could you believe what was happening? That we had this virus that was essentially out of control?
I still can't believe what has happened over the last 12 months and to be having this interview now, today, a year on since March 2020, I think it all feels quite surreal still.
From many people's point of view, there was a terrible lack of connection with out GPs who we rely on so much because of the pandemic. Is that a problem we're going to be able to overcome?
Yes, and I think we are already overcoming that problem through the vaccination programme. One of the reasons why the vaccination programme in the UK is world-beating and ahead of everybody else is because we have relied on the tried and tested general practice model of delivering the vaccinations to the patients. We're already on our way to restoring any loss of confidence in the NHS that might have happened during the pandemic times and I think we're doing a good job of it.
What have you learnt about yourself personally?
Things that seem to be quite complicated, very important and almost life-changing are probably not as difficult as we thought they would be. There are bigger things we need to look at. Even though we've had a really challenging time, there's also been a really positive time. Over the last few months when we've been able to vaccinate our patients and to look at the fact we've been able to vaccinate more than 50% of the UK population in the matter of three months is absolutely mindblowingly-amazing! We need to realise we're capable to do so much.
One of the worrying aspects of Covid-19 has been the impact on people's mental health, especially those working in the NHS. How are we going to overcome this?
I think it'll take time. I think people are still coming to terms with what has happened. In terms with what we do next is the important thing. People have been under stressful situations for almost 12 months and as we come out of the pandemic, we must make sure we look after staff very well because we need to make sure that the workforce is protected and looked after for the long term.
How hopeful are you feeling about the future now?
I'm feeling very hopeful actually. I look at the vaccination numbers every day and I'm still amazed everyday when I see these numbers. 750,000 patients in a day. It's an absolutely amazing feat by NHS and GPs and our teams. So i'm feeling very hopeful.
One doesn't want to be overly controversial but there's been much concern about pay rises for NHS workers. It's seems to me to be a little unfair at the moment. Is that going to be rectified, do you think?I don't know whether it will be but it should be. What we have seen when we first started is that there is some structural issues which has made life difficult for both NHS workers and patients when we started having the pandemic a year ago. Almost a decade of underfunding and pay cuts for NHS staff actually contribute to the difficulties we had to start off with. We have now proved our worth to our patients and to the government, and I think it now needs to be recognised. I think not just doctors but other healthcare professionals and care workers need to be recognised and make sure that we protect this workforce for the future because this pandemic isn't finished yet. We're going to be working in very challenging circumstances for some time yet and I think the right thing to do is make sure people are adequately rewarded for the work they do.
You spoke about your struggles to get PPE as a GP in the early days. Do you think that lessons have been learnt since then?
Things are better. I think initially there was a big problem with the central supply chain but it's working better now. There has always been this issue about what PPE is adequate to protect others from Covid-19, and i'm not sure that has been satisfactorily addressed. But in terms of the PPE supply, whatever PPE we need now, the central supply chain is working a lot better than it did at the start.
Do you feel we're ever going to be clear of Covid-19 or it's variants, or is it something we're going to have to learn to live with in future years?
I think this is here to stay at least for a while. I can't see at the moment how we're going to be 'Covid free.' I think we're going to have to learn to live with Covid-19 for at least the next few years and I think the only way we can live with the disease and function as a society is through the vaccination and making sure that whenever that advice changes from the government and scientist that we follow it.