Consultant Ed shares his COVID experience.

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Ed Bettany

Ed Bettany (pictured above) leads the Gastro team at King George Hospital, is one of the long-serving consultants – joining the Trust in 1999, having already done a year as a senior registrar in 1996.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, he has been impressed by how the Trust has pulled together, making changes quickly to ensure we could provide the best possible care for patients.

Here, he shares his own take on the pandemic, and how it felt to him that a rousing spirit of positivity and teamwork he remembers from earlier in his career at the Trust, was reborn:

Covid-19 is a new disease which hit us very quickly and we’ve been learning how to manage it day-to-day. It has been challenging.

What has impressed me has been the incredible effort of all staff, particularly the medical and nursing staff, in pulling together to run our hospitals safely, changing the way we work and ensuring we always had adequate cover to care for our patients.

One of the first things we did was change our rotas to ensure constant senior cover from our consultants. We had to make many difficult decisions early on and it would have been unfair to put this solely on the shoulders of the registrar on call.

These changes were done with willing, no one was told what to do. That meant we created a very happy workforce. This spirit felt typical to me of my early days at King George Hospital, with everyone willing to do whatever it took, it felt like that was reborn.

Covid-19 threw a hand grenade into my day-to-day gastro work. All our elective procedures stopped and we were just doing emergency endoscopies. This meant that I, alongside my colleagues, found myself on the wards caring for Covid patients.

Most of the patients I saw were petrified and needed reassurance, especially as they had no visitors. I was able to provide support to patients, as well as staff.

It was a new experience for many of us dealing with so many breathless patients. It was difficult as treatments usually have an effect quickly and these didn’t and in some cases we couldn’t treat them. It was a very steep learning curve.

In my first weekend on call I had to make some difficult emotive decisions, especially in the cases of some very sick younger patients. I sat with one patient as they were dying and had to certify the death of another. This brought it home what a vicious disease this is.

I qualified 33 years ago and I think my old-fashioned training really paid-off. Covid is a novel disease so I’ve relied on my clinical examination to treat my patients, having confidence in my experience, which our juniors do not have so it’s harder for them.

Before Covid I was only on the wards for two ward rounds a week – during this I’ve been on them continuously and I’ve enjoyed it, particularly the banter with our juniors. The pandemic has broken down the barriers of traditional hierarchy, and we’ve all got to know each other well and it’s been really refreshing.

I’ve not been on the wards so much since I started here in 1999 but it’s like riding a bike. I cut my teeth on general medical wards so it’s not been such a dramatic change for me. For some of my colleagues, urologists, neurologists, it’s been quite out of their comfort zones, and I’ve been really impressed by how they’ve dealt with it.

Working together as a team has been fundamental in how we’ve dealt with Covid and I think by making our teams feel valued, they’ve stepped up, that’s what the pandemic had brought out in everyone.

One dramatic change, thanks to technology, has been speeding up referrals by improving communication between doctors. We set up a WhatsApp group for consultants at King George Hospital at the start which meant when we need to refer a patient, we can just call the relevant consultant and in some cases have them there in 20 minutes. Previous paper or email referrals could take days, but by knowing who the relevant doctor is, we can get them there much quicker. I hope this continues.

What has scared me, more than COVID, is the wave of patients with non-COVID conditions who have not been coming in, which will hit us now. This is why now we’re through the peak, we must get back to some elective work and I know we are planning this now. We’ve also just started running telephone clinics again.

This has been a devastating disease, however, I’ve tried to look at the positive side. It’s brought our teams together, it’s also highlighted how important the NHS is.

I feel lucky that I’ve been able to continue doing my job and that my life has not changed as much as it has for others. I would have gone mad if I was stuck at home.”

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