An interview with an anonymous medic working for the 111 service on the effects coronavirus has had on her life and work.
Though she would usually be expected to take about four calls an hour, this doctor is now taking up to six or seven calls per hour. This is having an effect on working practices, as there is less time to give to each caller. This means that she is wasting a lot less time and sending people to the website more, directing them towards online resources for minor illnesses and injuries.
It can sometimes take people hours to get through, so tones of callers are varied once they get through. Some callers are grateful or even apologetic, believing that they might be wasting time if their problem is not severe enough and this can change the way you deal with them. Some callers are angry, sometimes shouting at the person who picks up the phone, although there are less of them.
Talking to patients can be very different over phone. She says she sometimes finds it difficult to bring them back on topic. While not wanting to sound rude over the phone, she also needs to make them focus to waste less time. It is also harder to properly assess a patient’s condition over the phone without being able to see them as some people overplay or even underplay their condition. She says that you learn how to adapt to this with time, for example by paying more attention to how they sound.
She says that one of the most unsatisfying parts of the job is the fact that you never find out what happens to patients who call unless you get their permission to call them back. Usually, you don’t find out or have time to call back.
Alongside work, she has to juggle tasks like cooking and homeschooling her eight-year-old son, coming home from shifts at 4.30 only to have to wake up at eight to help him with his work. She says that a benefit of lockdown is that she doesn’t have to worry about the school run or waiting for her husband to come home before she leaves for a shift.
She says it varies if people understand her situation and some people do seem to get it, but a few seem to underestimate the difficulty psychologically, saying things like ‘at least you’re not seeing patients face to face’. She says that even this is not as risk free as you might think, and that people don’t really appreciate factors like how much longer it takes to tell things about a patient over the phone.
There is also the problem of people dying from non-coronavirus related issues as they do not want to risk going to the hospital when they need to for fear of catching something. The strained ambulance system from people calling them unnecessarily can also mean that they can’t get to people fast enough.
She says that even when this is over, people will then come flooding back for treatment for injuries, cancer treatment, referrals and so on and the NHS will have a lot of things to catch up on. She thinks that this means that it will take a long time for the NHS to recover.
There are various forms of support being offered to medics at this time. For example, help is provided for people with transport issues or giving free food. Psychological support is also being provided and there is somewhere to call if you want to. She says that it is nice to be with the familiar faces of her colleagues, and that situation has been able to bring them together. People try to keep morale up by doing little things like bringing treats but there is little else they can do with social distancing rules.
She says that it would help if people took into account how strained the services are. If people were to make use of the internet and the NHS website at their disposal and consult online resources for minor symptoms, it would make the jobs of people like her much easier. She said that people also need to be considerate and not do things like calling an ambulance to take them to the hospital when they are able to drive and that everyone can play their part.