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‘Coronavirus crisis could last a year or more’ – MP’s warning from NHS frontline

PUBLISHED: 14:58 29 March 2020 | UPDATED: 14:58 29 March 2020

Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and north Ipswich, is also an NHS psychiatrist battling coronavirus on the frontline Pictures: DENISE BRADLEY/SARAH LUCY BROWN/PA/ANDREW MILLIGAN

Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and north Ipswich, is also an NHS psychiatrist battling coronavirus on the frontline Pictures: DENISE BRADLEY/SARAH LUCY BROWN/PA/ANDREW MILLIGAN

DENISE BRADLEY/SARAH LUCY BROWN/PA/ANDREW MILLIGAN

A Suffolk MP battling coronavirus on the frontline is calling for rapid testing of NHS staff to reduce rising sickness levels – as he warned the crisis could last into 2021.

Covid-19 is a “very nasty virus” that if allowed to could have killed hundreds of thousands of people, Dr Dan Poulter told this newspaper as he admitted he never thought that, as an NHS psychiatrist in London, he would be “wearing a face mask” to treat patients.

In a Q&A, the MP for Central Suffolk and north Ipswich praised Ipswich Hospital boss Nick Hulme for being “two to three weeks ahead of the national NHS” in preparing for the virus, adding that he thinks lockdown will last well into the summer months.

MORE: Is there light at the end of the tunnel in the global coronavirus crisis?

His message to people in Suffolk is to “stay home and stay safe” – but he strongly believes “we will get through this”.

Q: How bad is coronavirus and when will the current crisis end?

A: “Coronavirus is undoubtedly a very nasty virus and it is killing people - particularly people who have underlying health conditions and who are older.

“Of course NHS staff are most exposed to the virus and it’s important we make sure we have both PPE that staff need but also the testing available to make sure that people can have the reassurance to know whether they are infected or not and therefore whether they are a potential risk to other people in their lives or to their patients.

“There is no quick fix – this is something we are going to be living with now for up to a year, maybe longer.

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“I would certainly expect the lockdown restriction we are living with at the moment to be in place into the summer, because there is evidence from other countries that it save lives, as disruptive and difficult as these decisions are to other parts of our lives, for me, we need to put saving lives ahead of everything else.”

Q: What is your stance on NHS testing and personal protection equipment (PPE)?

A: “I feel very strongly about testing, particularly of NHS staff.

“Staff are having to self-isolate with symptoms that could potentially be coronavirus.

“Until we have testing those members of staff will have to be off work for 7 days or 14 days because they simply don’t know whether they’ve got the virus or not.

“That puts additional pressure on the NHS due to increased sickness rates at a time when we need the service to be at full capacity.

“None of us would want to put our patients or colleagues at risk, the right thing to do is to self-isolate if you’ve got symptoms.

MORE: Your lockdown questions answered

“But until there’s testing available that can be rapidly deployed to NHS staff, we have a situation where some members of staff who are unwell but not with coronavirus symptoms who might normally go into work will be unable to do so which puts additional stress and strain on the system due to reduced workforce numbers.

“This is something the government has said quite rightly it wants to address, but it’s something that could have been foreseen quite a few weeks ago.

“I’m lucky where I am, our senior leadership team were two or three weeks ahead of the rest of the NHS in actually preparing at a local level for this.

“But I think at a national level it was slower than it could have been in terms of personal protective equipment.

MORE: All the coronavirus changes by Ipswich Borough Council in the last two weeks

“There has been some urgent ordering going on recently, but there still are many NHS staff who don’t have the equipment they need. This is something that needs to be addressed very urgently.

“I know the government is absolutely prioritising that, but I think for me the biggest point that has struck home to me is that while there are a lot of scientists/academics/epidemiologists war gaming how the virus will play out over certain circumstances, there hasn’t necessarily been the input of senior experienced hospital clinicians into the planning process in the way that may have foreseen the need for rapid testing of staff and protective equipment at an early stage.”

Q: What’s the situation closer to home, in your constituency for instance?

A: “Nick Hulme, at Ipswich Hospital, was two or three weeks ahead of national planning in his own thought process.

“He’s done a very good job in foreseeing what the challenges will be.

“But when there is a national shortage of PPE, no matter how good your chief executive is, and your leadership team is, there are challenges getting hold of things.

“It’s a central planning issue rather than a local planning issue.

MORE: Ipswich Hospital worker brands national coronavirus protection advice ‘woefully inadequate’

“This is something that we have not experienced in the NHS ever.

“Certainly this is the biggest public health emergency since the Spanish flu 100 years ago.

“These are unquestionably unprecedented times and with a virus that could if it was allowed to, could kill hundreds of thousands of people, if we didn’t have the right public health measures with social distancing, vulnerable people being in self-isolation for 12 weeks and so on.”

Q: You’re a mental health doctor, so are you treating coronavirus patients?

A: “As a psychiatrist, I never thought I would be wearing a face mask.

“I never thought that working in mental health I would be talking to patients through a face mask.

“There are already high levels of staff sickness and we are having to often take a decision to discharge patients back to the community perhaps a little earlier than we would want to in order to try and help those who have got coronavirus and avoid them becoming infected.

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“We are doing this is in a way that is as safe as possible, you have to recognise the risk of getting coronavirus to some patients.”

Q: What is your message to people in Suffolk?

A: “My message to people in Suffolk would be to stay at home, keep away from friends and family unless they live in your household, everyone should keep washing their hands thoroughly.

“I’m sure we will get through this, and the more people that follow those simple rules, the less the infection will travel in Suffolk, and the more lives we will save.”

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