A rapidly changing situation

Pick up a newspaper, switch on the radio or TV, go online: whatever medium you choose you will never be far away from a story about COVID-19. Some come from the responsible end of the reporting spectrum; providing advice on measures such as hand washing or catching coughs and sneezes in tissues. Others are less responsible; promoting fake health advice which, in the words of a BBC article debunking some of the myths going around [1], range from ‘useless but relatively harmless to downright dangerous’.

It’s a rapidly changing situation and although, at the time of writing on 9th March, a Cobra meeting has concluded that the UK’s response should remain in the containment phase, the general perception is that sooner or later further measures will need to be taken. For those looking to optimise their response to the virus, Public Health England has issued a suite of guidance [2] notes. Some are targeted towards health professionals whilst others look to provide guidance for those working in non-clinical settings such as transport or education.

These guidance notes cover a range of areas from basic infection control and decontamination procedures to investigation and clinical management of possible cases. Background information about COVID-19 is also covered as is the provision of appropriate guidance to help health professionals to provide appropriate information to the general public.

Future measures under consideration include the banning of large gatherings such as sporting events and concerts. Businesses may also be encouraged to enable their people to work from home wherever possible in a bid to reduce transmission on public transport or at work. Whilst this may be feasible for some businesses, those working in the health profession may not find it as easy to treat their patients at arm’s length.

Admittedly it may be possible to carry out some consultations over the telephone or via a video call. However, if health professionals are looking to provide direct interventions such as physiotherapy or dentistry then telephone consultations may well not be an option.

If they have not already done so, health practices may wish to see the current containment phase as an opportunity to review continuity plans and put in place appropriate measures which could help to provide continuity of patient care. For example, in the event of administration staff being unable to attend either through illness or self isolation, the health practice may wish to consider outsourcing areas such as telephone answering and diary management.

The online filing and management of patient notes could also help some practitioners to access client files. This measure may be particularly appropriate if healthcare professionals have either to move offices or work peripatetically in response to the virus.

In a fluid situation, the more flexible the planning the better. Working out potential alternative avenues of approach now could mean that when the situation changes, health practices are better able to respond. The headlines at the moment may naturally focus on the ongoing coronavirus situation but the day-to-day work of health practitioners still remains.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-51735367

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-list-of-guidance