‘We Can Get Through This’ – Shaftesbury’s Health Centre Makes Changes To Protect Staff And Patients From Coronavirus

Blackmore Vale Partnership operates Shaftesbury’s Abbey View Medical Centre and surgeries in Fontmell Magna, Sturminster Newton and Marnhull. Managing partner Jane Dawes explains how your services will change from Monday, because of coronavirus.

“We’re receiving official updates from Public Health England daily,” said Jane. “We took the decision yesterday (13th March) after the latest update to convert all GP and nurse practitioner appointments, where possible, to telephone calls or video consultations.”

Jane reiterated what people who suspect that they have coronavirus should do. “The official guidance from the government is anybody who has developed a new, continuous cough, or a high temperature over 37.8 degrees, should self-isolate at home. Unless their symptoms deteriorate, they don’t need to contact 111. They should treat themselves with more fluids and some paracetamol and they shouldn’t ring the GP surgery. If their symptoms deteriorate, they should call 111 and they will then decide what action needs to be taken.”

Jane Dawes

If you feel unwell, whether you feel you have coronavirus or another illness or condition, you should not attend Abbey View Medical Centre unless you have been asked to by a doctor or clinician.

“What we’re trying to do is reduce footfall into all of our sites. We’re taking every precaution and cleaning on the hour. The fewer people that are having contact with us and each other, the better. We suggest that they call the surgery. We have an online service called eConsult, which they can access via our website at BlackmoreValeSurgery.co.uk. You can do an online consultation directly from home, 24-hours-a-day, and you’re guaranteed a response by the next working day.”

The Blackmore Vale Partnership has closed Fontmell Magna Surgery until further notice. Any patients with booked appointments at any of their surgeries should not attend unless they have been asked to by health centre staff. Across their operational sites, Jane’s team will deal with as many patients as they can without the need to meet face-to-face. Asthma, diabetes and COPD reviews will be conducted by phone.

“All the evidence shows that 85 to 90% of what we do can be done over the phone. We now have the facility for video consultations so we can see people. There’s only a very small number of people that we physically need to see, but we must have enough staff on-site to be able to do that,” said Jane.

Jane says the practice’s new video consulting service was tested last week and should go live ‘properly’ from Monday. It means that clinicians can assess patients using the cameras in their patient’s computers, tablets or smartphones. Additionally, the eConsult service allows patients to submit photos of their conditions for evaluation.

Jane says the practice has also set up a special unit in Marnhull. “Here we will see patients if they have viral symptoms that don’t seem to be coronavirus and we need to examine them. They will be advised by a clinician if that’s relevant to them,” said Jane.

Staff will ask the patient questions, either online or on the phone, to determine whether the symptoms appear to be coronavirus or another form of viral infection. If it doesn’t appear to be COVID-19, the patient will be treated, potentially with antibiotics, by medics at Marnhull.

Again, you mustn’t turn up unannounced. You have to be invited to see a health professional at Marnhull. “We know that’s not terribly convenient for people and we know that lots of people are very worried. What we’re trying to do is keep our staff as well as possible, and to prevent unnecessary contact with patients so we can continue to see those patients who have serious conditions and still need to be seen and assessed by our clinicians.”

Jane reiterated that Marnhull surgery is not a COVID-19 testing facility. “It won’t be for people who have new-onset, continuous cough and high temperature, but there will undoubtedly be others with viral symptoms – different symptoms to that – who we think we do need to see,” said Jane. “They will be invited at a particular time. We will be letting people in one at a time. We will stagger those, so people are not meeting. They’ll be invited in and they will be met by staff who are wearing protective equipment. People mustn’t worry too much about it. It looks quite scary, but it’s just about making sure that if you haven’t got anything, that we’re not transferring anything to you and you’re not transferring anything to us. Everything will be wiped down and sanitised after each patient. You will see a GP or nurse practitioner and they will decide what needs to happen next.”

Appointments for patients who have health conditions that require regular blood tests will continue at the Abbey View practice. “Blood tests and smears will still be going ahead. For people who have serious long-term conditions, what we have said regarding blood tests is that if it is just for an annual review and you are well, then it can probably wait. Anyone who is undergoing current treatment who needs blood tests, baby immunisations, leg ulcers, wound management and stitch removal, all of those things that really can’t wait are still going ahead.”

If you have a serious and urgent medical condition, Jane says you should try to avoid visiting the surgery. “The advice for anyone who’s suffering an absolute emergency remains the same. We would always advise them, even if they rang us, to ring 999. If they’re in the building, we will treat and assess them but actually, they’re far better off being seen by the ambulance. The wait may be longer if they’re in the GP practice. It’s best to call from home on 999 for anything like stroke, profuse bleeding, severe shortness of breath and chest pains,” advised Jane.

Patients should not have to visit the health centre to obtain repeat prescriptions. “About two or three weeks ago, we changed to almost 100% electronic prescriptions. For any patients who have already nominated a pharmacy where they would like to pick up their prescriptions from, their routine ongoing prescriptions will just happen normally. If they’ve got any queries, they can ring us, but I would suggest that they do that in the afternoon. Or they can email us on prescription@dorsetgp.nhs.uk. If they registered for online access, they can do it via that, or they can download the NHS app, which is fantastic once you’ve confirmed your identity. It gives you access to your clinical records, test results and your prescriptions all online.”

Jane says prescription solutions are being put in place for people who need to self-isolate. “Most of the local pharmacies do home deliveries. We are looking at whether we can set up anything in our community where people are helping each other out. If they are self-isolating, they can still have deliveries of essential food medications, and those will be left on the doorstep so there’s a very limited risk of any sort of transmission. We’re just in the process of looking at that,” Jane said.

Recently, ThisIsAlfred has featured the range of health support groups organised by the Shaftesbury medical practice recently. Jane says all of those sessions, from the LGBT group to the fibromyalgia meetings, are currently on hold. “We’re not having any face-to-face meetings. We’re just trying to keep as many people out of the building as we possibly can because that will help us to contain the spread of infection,” she said.

North Dorset is an area with an older population than many parts of the UK. I asked Jane whether the practice was dealing with the challenges of coronavirus differently because of the Shaftesbury area’s age profile. “Not really. I think we’re well aware of the demographics of our patient population and that’s why we’re making this decision to see anybody with viral symptoms that aren’t obvious cases of coronavirus separately. So Sturminster Newton and Abbey View Medical Centre in Shaftesbury can continue to see those people, or usually, people with serious, long-term conditions and older patients who need to be seen and they need to be assessed because they’ve got other ongoing problems and medical complexities.”

Jane says that the public has, mostly, been understanding. “On the whole, they have been amazing. We’ve had lots of lovely comments and wonderful support from our population. We know it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for us. We’re having to change top to bottom daily and let patients know without panicking people. These are unprecedented times for everybody. Please bear with us. We’re doing our very best, we won’t get it all right, I’m sure. We’re working our socks off trying to make sure that we can still see people who do need to be seen and assessed by our clinicians.”

Jane and her colleagues will likely be concerned about their own health too. This situation is subjecting them to additional pressure, but Jane says her team is coping well and rising to the challenge. “We have a morning meeting looking at any guidance that’s come in overnight and we decide on what we’re going to be doing. We’re having lots of staff get-togethers where we’re giving them the opportunity to share any concerns that they may have, or to ask questions to clarify how we’re doing things. They’re just being utterly amazing and everyone is chipping in. We expect that we will all have to start doing some things that we wouldn’t normally do because there will be some staff off with the coronavirus. If we all pull together, we will get through this,” said Jane.

When we spoke at lunchtime on Saturday, Jane was not aware of any Shaftesbury patients who have been given a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. “They’re now not testing unless you get admitted to hospital. As the government have said, there’s likely to be people with those symptoms. Whether they have it or not, we won’t find out,” said Jane.

With Jane’s team monitoring medical advice and guidance so closely, I asked her whether there was any misinformation that she had seen on social media that she wanted to address. “Go to NHS resources, www.nhs.uk, which has a section on coronavirus and that it is all approved information. Some strange things are going around about drinking lots of water or holding your breath and those are fake. None of that is evidence-based and could be dangerous. Please just go to the official sources of information. You’ll find tons of information on how to self-isolate, how to clean rooms or how to how to do almost everything,” said Jane.

Jane says she will keep Alfred readers and listeners updated about any changes.