Media reports have been concentrating, as they will, on the sharp end of the coronavirus pandemic: on hospitalisations, on death counts, on frontline staff supporting positive-test patients, on individual deaths. However, as indicated by the personal testimony of a local GP in this issue (Seeing through the fog), the majority of essential medical services that the NHS provides continue to have no relation to this disease.

To emphasise the point, according to the Office of National Statistics the numbers of deaths in England and Wales where coronavirus was recorded as a causal factor were just 7% of the total over the month of March. The normal mill of fatalities – heart disease, cancer, dementia etc – has’t receded. 

Local GPs have nevertheless resorted largely to physically distanced consultations, screened by reception staff trained to divide off patients between those reporting symptoms which are potentially related to Covid-19 and those which are not. Little Ridge Surgery in St Leonards has been dedicated to host assessments of the former only, referred by a combination of several of the town’s practices and staffed in rotation by their GPs. A separate set of practices, headed by Dr Craig Namvar and combining Old Town Surgery, Warrior Square Surgery (based at Marlborough House) and Churchwood Medical Practice, has adapted its services into a ‘primary care hub’ under the name of Hastings and Rother Healthcare. From last week all its non-Covid patients have been directed to Churchwood; potential Covid patients are being seen at a ‘drive-through’ clinic at Warrior Square, waiting outside in their cars for examination by doctors who are fully kitted up with masks, gloves and other protective equipment. A marquee has been installed in the carpark of Marlborough House for examination of such patients, when needed.

The purpose is not to provide anti-viral treatment: medical science has none to offer at present. Nor are the GPs equipped with any testing facilities, so they cannot actually determine whether their patients have contracted Covid or not. If symptoms are severe, the sufferers will be directed to the Conquest for testing and, if necessary, intensive care. 

On the other hand, prior examination by GPs may identify other medical problems. And here there’s some concern that the massive diversion of hospital resources to the pandemic frontline, added to perennial shortages of senior specialist doctors at the Conquest, may result in serious non-Covid cases being undertreated or misdiagnosed. The media, and many politicians, have presented the pandemic as a foreign invasion, an attack unprecedented in modern times that we must oppose and ‘defeat’ on a comprehensive war footing. Wars, though, tend to accumulate collateral damage. 

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