Dr Luke Evans is a member of the Health Select Committee, and is MP for Bosworth.
I’m sure that most of us who watched the Prime Minister’s Easter message, recorded shortly after his release from St Thomas’ hospital, had a tear in their eye, or at least a lump in their throat, at the remarkable fortitude of a man who days earlier had his life hanging in the balance as a direct result of this awful disease which weighs heavy on all of our shoulders.
I’m not alone in admiring the boss’s journey, as it cuts closer to home then you might first imagine.
Like most medics, I have experienced ITU from a professional perspective, both as a medical student but also a junior doctor on the wards. But just over ten years ago, when I was a junior doctor, I had my own turn on the patient side; it’s not something that I will ever forget.
I had been experiencing atypical symptoms of appendicitis when, in the early hours of Sunday morning, I was admitted to hospital in pain. Just a few hours later, I was undergoing an emergency appendicectomy, which led to an unusual but serious complication. Low oxygen saturations and struggling for air led me to a stay on the intensive care unit.
I learnt what it is like to gasp for breath.
I had developed bilateral pneumonia, the after-effects of which have to be managed to this day. A few days later, I developed another complication due to the antibiotic treatment I was on: pseudomembranous colitis – in short bowel inflammation needing contrast CT scans and further medical treatment.
In some ways, my time as a patient in ITU was as formative to my approach to medicine as my medical training was, and was one of the factors in embarking on a political career. The ebb and flow of improving and worsening, hidden complications and difficulties can make you short-sighted if you let them.
I left hospital to a long recuperation knowing that, whilst I had to focus on the small steps of returning to daily life, I also had to look to the much bigger picture too; an achievement or knockback in my daily goals didn’t alter the greater aim of where I wanted to be after a full recovery.
It strikes me that dual approach of daily targets and overall goals is apposite to where we are on Coronavirus too.
I know that it has been said so often before that it has become cliché, but this pandemic is unprecedented in modern times. The Government’s response has had to be far-reaching and has been based on just two central goals: to save as many lives as we possibly can, and to do so whilst not permanently damaging the economy that every one of us, and every one of our public services, ultimately rely upon.
Of course there are hundreds if not thousands of work strands which go into achieving those two aims – the equivalent of my own and I suppose the Prime Minister’s daily goals. Some of those strands will be enacted seamlessly whilst others will hit difficulties.
In Bosworth, I have been contacted over the past two weeks by a general practice and domiciliary care company both running low on personal protective equipment (PPE). Interventions on behalf of my constituents revealed that whilst sufficient PPE was held in stock locally there had been difficulties, in those two cases, of getting it out to where it was needed: in both cases the issue was resolved, but for a while things were concerning.
In an ideal world, that casework shouldn’t have been needed, but we’re living far from an ideal world right now, and in focusing on those minutiae it’s very easy to lose sight of the issue in the round, the overall goal.
Early research from SAGE / Imperial College London suggested that if no mitigation measures were put in place Coronavirus could cost more than 500,000 lives here in the UK by August. Whilst every life lost is a tragedy, returning to that bigger picture, it is astonishing that we are now potentially looking at somewhere around 20,000 additional deaths. Of course we won’t know what the final picture looks like for some time and making concrete predictions in health is a dangerous game.
At this point of the pandemic, because of a whole host of mitigating factors, it is impossible to identify which countries are doing particularly well or poorly based on number of deaths alone. I am all too aware of the downturn in presentations of non-COVID medical issues; the likely jump in advanced cancer presentations; the pending economic hardship that will see jumps in suicide; and failing businesses if we judge by the precedent of the 2008 crash.
The struggle to preserve sectors of the economy like manufacturing, restaurants and the travel industry will be great, there will no doubt come a time when the media pick all of these as single issue points. However, a holistic view is imperative.
The latest opinion poll puts the Conservatives at a record high of 55 per cent. Whilst opinion polling should be taken with a pinch of salt right now I have faith that the British public are focused on that bigger picture too; that is what is driving reported levels of understanding and appreciation, if not necessarily popularity.
It’s right that both politicians and journalists hold the government to account; but I have a feeling when all of this is over, just like a patient being released from ITU, it will be those overall goals which mean much more to all of us.