Answering the call

Images above: Grove Park surgery; Dr Sheila Hunt

Sheila Hunt must have dealt with thousands of patients over the years. She set up Grove Park Surgery in 1988 and retired in 2017, so is forever saying hello to people as she goes about her business in Chiswick (although a good proportion of those who’ve seen her and nodded have actually befriended someone else, as she has an identical twin sister).

She taken up art in retirement and is the treasurer of Chiswick Choir, who had their first ‘virtual rehearsal’ this week, with mixed success. She has also signed up for a 5k charity run, having never been a runner in her life before. She knows it will be cancelled, but is using her one opportunity per day to take exercise, to persevere with the training regardless.

Now she’s waiting to hear what contribution she will make to the Coronavirus emergency, as she is one of the many retired medical staff who have answered the call to help our in this national crisis.

“Most people who go into medicine want to make a positive difference” she told me. “That feeling doesn’t go away when you retire”.

Many of her peer group with whom she trained are also volunteering, and like Sheila are waiting to be told what to do next. When you apply to the General Medical Council (GMC) you are given the option of working directly with patients, or you can choose to non face to face work. She’s opted for the latter.

“There’s no point in going in and adding to the list of people who are sick” she says pragmatically.

The GMC has been waiting on the emergency legislation going through parliament to re-license former doctors. As soon as it becomes law (very shortly) retired doctors will automatically be re-licenced unless they have specifically opted out. You’d think after 30 years she would have absolute confidence in her ability, but she is slightly apprehensive.

“Telephone triage requires a very particular set of skills” she says. “When you meet a patient face to face they provide other clues you can work with”.

Having been her patient I’d be mightily relieved if I got through to Sheila for triaging, but with typical modesty she says “I have been out of it for a bit and doctors aren’t particularly good at tick lists”.

Her son is also a doctor and she is deeply concerned about the lack of protection for medical staff, which she says is “totally inadequate” in both GP surgeries and hospitals.

“The Government has had time to ramp up provision for both testing and personal protective equipment. They’re not testing anyone unless they’re admitted. The personal protective equipment is inadequate. It’s appalling. The Government should have done more testing much more quickly. They should have looked at what was happening in China and South Korea and reacted much more quickly. South Korea has had relatively few cases because they did widespread testing, they quarantined and traced contacts”.