‘I’ve had dreams where I’ve seen myself on ventilators’. A GP shares his experience of coronavirus.

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As a part-time GP and Labour cabinet member for Oldham Council, Dr Zahid Chauhan has a broad view of the coronavirus (Covid-19) response in the UK.

In the latest of a series of profiles looking at workers on the front line of the battle against coronavirus, Chauhan, who is also chief clinical officer for a social enterprise in Greater Manchester, tells the PA news agency what life is like right now.

What was a normal working day like before coronavirus?

“My normal day would have been that I would do some surgeries in the morning, then have some lunch and do some afternoon surgery on certain days; on certain days I will just do my council work. Saturday, Sunday I will meet with my constituents, I do my case work, and sometimes I have to meet my organisational work as well.”

How has that changed now?

“Since coronavirus, I’m on call more or less 24 hours. I get phone calls at four o’clock in the morning if I’m not already at the workplace. We might have issues day to day, on a daily basis we might be trying to convince a colleague the PPE you’ve got is enough to go and see their patient, trying to convince a driver who carries a doctor to say ‘no, you are safe’, might be trying to find GPs to do certain things – and then at the same time go into the acute clinics for Covid and see those patients.”

Zahid Chauhan is made an OBE by the Prince of Wales
Dr Zahid Chauhan was made an OBE by the Prince of Wales for his work with homeless people (Yui Mok/PA)

How is it affecting you?

“Initially it was really worrying, because you come home and see your children, so you learn to change your life, you don’t allow your kids to hug you… but, you get a bit anxious as well. You come home and then you read in the newspapers and things that your colleagues have died, you have experience of people you know closely being on ventilators and some of them die, and you think, ‘what’s going to happen with me, with my family?’

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“You remember, that if you don’t do it, who else is going to do it? As clinical leadership, you need to set an example.

“I’ve had dreams where I’ve seen myself on ventilators, I’ve had dreams of writing my own will, it always happens after seeing or hearing about the death of a colleague.

“On the other side, positive side, the huge satisfaction you get by helping people who need you most. It’s worth doing it even only for that reason… I’ve tried to do my best to fulfil my social responsibility.”

Who do you think the heroes of this pandemic are?

“Everyone. It’s not easy to sit at home and be locked into the house, that’s the most difficult thing to do. It’s not easy to be a carer, and work on minimum wage and go and look after the most vulnerable people, and also being vulnerable yourself and worrying about infections and things. It’s not easy to be a bin man, and go and collect the bins of people who might be infected, or have contaminated surfaces. It’s not easy to be working nights as admin people to support your health and social care colleagues.

“It’s not a doctor or a nurse who can single-handedly help you and care about you, it’s hundreds of people who put themselves at risk, who work on minimum wage to deliver the best care.”

What lessons can people learn from this experience?

“This is not the time to divide us, but this is definitely going to be a time where we should reflect on what our needs are and reflect from our mistakes, and say what do we need to do to reinvest in our social care, reinvest in our health system, reinvest in our other services and deal with social deprivation, deal with austerity and many other things.

“I’m sure we are going to have analysis of the coronavirus crisis afterwards and I hope that politicians are going to be brave enough to stand up and say sorry, we thought this was the best way, but I wish we would have done this.”

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