health

It's NOT 'just like flu': All this fake news makes my blood boil, writes DR ELLIE CANNON


At first, it was just a few cheers, echoing somewhere in the distance. But before long, it had spread – and soon, the whole street had erupted with noise. 

I couldn’t believe my ears as neighbours – gathered in small clusters on their doorsteps, or leaning from windows – whooped, clapped and rang bells. 

Then friends and even strangers started calling my name.

A nurse is seen swabbing the occupants of a car at a drive-thru Covid-19 testing station at Chessington World of Adventures in Chessington, England (file photo)

A nurse is seen swabbing the occupants of a car at a drive-thru Covid-19 testing station at Chessington World of Adventures in Chessington, England (file photo)

I reluctantly followed their orders, taking centre stage in the middle of the road with a fellow NHS worker. But I was cheering too, for my colleagues – doctors, nurses, surgeons, and support staff alike. 

On Thursday at 8pm, thousands of people across the country – on streets just like mine – showed their support for the doctors and nurses fighting to save lives. 

It was a moment of national unity that made my heart soar, after weeks of gloom. 

And I have to admit, as a GP set to be on the sharp end of the Covid-19 pandemic, I fought back tears. 

I expect many of you felt the same. But when I stepped back inside, after the noise had eventually died down, a lump remained in my throat. 

You see, for thousands of medical workers such as me, things are about to get tough. 

This week, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, warned that NHS trusts in London are already seeing an explosion in demand as a result of coronavirus. 

Staff are dealing with wave after wave of seriously ill patients – which he described as a ‘continuous tsunami’ – and capacity is quickly being filled. 

The Shard and Tower Bridge lit up in blue to show appreciation and support for NHS staff during the Covid-19 outbreak on March 26 in London, UK (file photo)

The Shard and Tower Bridge lit up in blue to show appreciation and support for NHS staff during the Covid-19 outbreak on March 26 in London, UK (file photo)

I am now even set up to work from home, so I can still speak to patients and consult remotely if I need to self-isolate (pictured: Dr Ellie Cannon)

I am now even set up to work from home, so I can still speak to patients and consult remotely if I need to self-isolate (pictured: Dr Ellie Cannon)

Under current plans, I and other colleagues in general practice could soon be redeployed to help. 

I’ve already heard of doctors and nurses who have been moved out of specialist clinics in hospitals to work in Covid-19 wards. 

In many ways though, these past few weeks have felt like the calm before the storm – although business has been a bit different to usual. 

Do you have a question for Dr Ellie?

Email DrEllie@mailonsunday.co.uk or write to Health, The Mail on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5TT.

Dr Ellie can only answer in a general context and cannot respond to individual cases, or give personal replies. If you have a health concern, always consult your own GP.

We have been running our normal GP surgery, but everything has been done over the telephone. 

I am now even set up to work from home, so I can still speak to patients and consult remotely if I need to self-isolate. 

Our patients have been amazing, understanding the huge pressures the health system is under and not bothering us with minor ailments. 

But there has been a surge in prescription requests, particularly for asthma inhalers and paracetamol. 

Pharmacists are overwhelmed and exhausted. Their workload has tripled over the past few weeks, as people rushed to get their medications before lockdown – or tried to stockpile. 

So far, though, all things considered, we’ve been managing well. 

Staff prepare to load equipment into London Ambulance Service vehicles in the east car park at the ExCel London exhibition centre, which is being transformed into a field hospital

Staff prepare to load equipment into London Ambulance Service vehicles in the east car park at the ExCel London exhibition centre, which is being transformed into a field hospital

But, in all honesty, we are entering uncharted waters – and we don’t really know what the coming months will look like. 

I want people to know this: GP surgeries will remain open. 

In fact, it’s likely that we will be working more hours than at the moment, but in a very different way. 

It seems we will be available only for anything that cannot wait. 

All other resources will be directed towards looking after patients with Covid-19 at home. 

Weird science

Dolphins only let one side of their brain sleep at a time

Dolphins can’t breathe automatically – they have to go to the surface of the water for air. 

If dolphins had prolonged periods of unconscious sleep as humans do, they would suffocate or drown.

So, instead, dolphins let just one side of their brain rest while the other remains alert. This means they can continue to breathe regularly. 

This is called unihemispheric sleep.

Clinical Commissioning Groups – which plan care in local areas – are currently deciding what counts as essential outside of this. 

Face-to-face services that will continue during the pandemic include monitoring patients on the blood-thinning drug warfarin, reviewing sick children and seeing patients with urgent stomach pains, which could be appendicitis.

The simple answer is, if you feel you need to see your GP for something non-Covid-19 related, call. 

Childhood vaccinations will continue, at the moment, but all cervical cancer screening is set to be delayed. 

The rest of our services will have to be done by video and telephone consultation – including six-week baby checks. 

I’ve not quite worked out how that one will work – it’s quite difficult to examine a baby’s hips or listen for a heart murmur when you aren’t in the same room. 

Our team has had to accept that we will not be providing the top-class service we once did. 

And important medical issues, mental health problems and symptoms may be missed. We are also going to have to rely on our patients to temporarily look after themselves. 

An advertising board in Glasgow displaying a message thanking the NHS as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of coronavirus (file photo)

An advertising board in Glasgow displaying a message thanking the NHS as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of coronavirus (file photo)

Of course, I am worried that some patients with symptoms that can’t wait – a new breast lump, for instance – will also end up doing so. We could miss serious diagnoses, which we never normally would. This fear is shared by other doctors. It’s not only Covid-19 that could result in a spike in deaths, but also the diseases that get overlooked during these current abnormal times. 

During this outbreak, I feel a real sense of duty to help spread the most important messages that could help save lives – not least, wash your hands and stay at home. 

What’s the difference…

... between self-isolation and social-distancing?

If you have symptoms of Covid-19 – which include a new, continuous cough or a fever – you should self-isolate for seven days. 

This means you should stay at home at all times and only go outside to exercise. If you live with other people they need to self-isolate for 14 days – the time it takes for symptoms to appear. 

Social-distancing is what we should all be doing to try to stop the spread of Covid-19 – even when we feel well. It’s a big shift in how we live our lives, and means avoiding large gatherings, working from home and only using transport when it’s essential. You can still exercise outdoors once a day – and go to the shop if really necessary – but you should keep at least two metres from other people at all times.

I, along with other doctors who work in the media, am regularly briefed by the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, so I can make sure we are offering the right advice. 

But even in my position, it is hard not to be sucked in by the scare stories or to be frightened by the amateur statisticians tweeting online. 

Some of the claims I read make my blood boil. 

I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has told me that more people die from the flu every year than will fall victim to Covid-19. 

This comparison is fake news – flu does not attack everyone in the country at once, deluging the health system. We know coronavirus can and does. 

This week, I signed up to support TV presenter Rachel Riley with the new Don’t Spread The Virus campaign. 

Launched by the Centre for Countering Hate, which usually works to tackle hate and trolling online, it aims to debunk some of the misinformation surrounding Covid-19. 

The Mail on Sunday has always fought to fight fake health news in these pages, so I was delighted to join the campaign. 

False statements and stories only add to the anxiety and panic that many of us are already feeling. 

What we all need is accurate, safe advice from trusted sources. 

And, I hope, that is what I will continue to be.



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