Holly Abbot, GP, Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group
How the pandemic has changed working practice at doctors' surgeries: new rapid diagnostic centres for cancer, virtual and telephone consultations
Holly Abbot is a GP at the Humbleyard Practice in Norfolk, where she’s worked for the last five years. Before that she completed her training in London and subsequently went to work in a rural hospital in South Africa. Currently, she’s helping to establish a local rapid diagnostic centre for cancer, which is part of a national initiative.
"Because of the pandemic, some cancer diagnoses are being ... delayed."
Rapid diagnostic centres are being set up all over the country to try and detect cancers early. “When people go to see their GP with a non-specific symptom that could be a sign of cancer, like night pain, weight loss or unexplained fatigue, they would usually have a series of consultations with their GP and do a range of tests. This can be stressful and take a lot of time. Because of the pandemic, some cancer diagnoses are being further delayed. If somebody came to their GP because of organ specific symptoms such as a change in their bowel habits, they’d probably fit the criteria to be seen within two weeks in a consultant led clinic, or be sent directly for a specific test (such as a coloscopy) at the hospital for that particular organ. But people with non-specific symptoms don’t fit easily onto any of those pathways. Therefore, their cancers diagnosis is often delayed.”
"I think the pandemic quickly forced GPs into working in a way that relies more on technology and less on face-to-face consultations."
Rapid diagnostic centres and other new services are being initiated to try and tackle the health burden worsened by COVID-19. GP care has been affected by the pandemic, with consultations often taking place via telephone or virtually, and patients often going to their GP late. “I think the pandemic quickly forced GPs into working in a way that relies more on technology and less on face-to-face consultations, though some of the changes were probably going to come eventually anyway because the NHS is under such strain.” Under normal circumstances Holly believes that many people would have reacted adversely to more online care. “There would have been pushback from communities. But because of the pandemic it was pushed through quickly because it was the safest thing to do.”
“Traditionally, doctors used to have a different place in the community. The profession was more respected, and it attracted more men.”
As a woman in the NHS, she notes there are more females than males and that, as a young mum, working as a GP gives her the advantage of flexibility. “Most GPs do two to four days a week — her normal working day lasts around 11 hours — and you can get a job anywhere in the country.” Interestingly, the male-female divide seemed evenly split at university, and Holly puts forward some ideas as to why there are fewer male GPs. “Traditionally, doctors used to have a different place in the community. The profession was more respected, and it attracted more men.” Asked about her future within the NHS, Holly is keen to stay but voices concern about the future of the organisation. “I think the NHS is amazing, but it’s in quite a lot of difficulty. There needs to be more honesty about the difficulties of an NHS with an ageing population. I don’t know what it’s going to look like in ten years’ time. I don’t think anybody knows what it will look like in the future.” #nhsheroes #unsungheroes #rapiddiagnosticcentrecancer #womeninthenhs
Genevieve Shaw, editor