From having to work online, to fearing about our own lives every time we exited the house, it’s safe to say that this past year has been exhausting for us all. However, with the ever-increasing pressure on the health service, the NHS has had a very difficult year. I interviewed Alka Sharma, a GP from Oaks Park Medical Centre (a general practice and vaccination site in London).

"What was the impact of COVID-19 when it hit last year?"

“The whole health service was unfamiliar with this very new virus and the illness it cause - we had little idea of how to tackle it. We had to act immediately and make significant changes in our ways of working, such as transferring most GP appointments to be online. Traditionally, general practice has been the first point of contact for patients and carers, and this contact was 90% face to face - which we have had to alter for the safety of our patients and staff. Another challenge was isolation, and the impact on emotional and mental health it had on patients - many were left stuck in a difficult position, and not being able to enter a GP practice to seek help lead to an increase in the amount of people contacting us with mental health issues."  

"What was the motivation to keep the service running as best as it could?"

“In general practice, the GPs have known their patients for many years, and have perhaps looked after their families through generations, meaning that the contact was not always about medical needs, and many a time it was about social needs, and online services had a somewhat lesser effect than our previous services, which was an adversity for patients and clinicians alike. It was especially hard as the practice is a safe space for many to seek someone to talk to- and as, for example, domestic abuse and violence cases increased, face to face support and comfort decreased.”

"How did the vaccine affect your service?"

“The vaccine brought hope, and although people were reluctant to be injected at first, more evidence for the safety of the vaccine arrived, with more patients arriving alongside it. When the practice was initially planning on becoming a vaccination site, staff and patient morale was at an all time high. It was an emotional and rewarding experience, requiring lots of preparation and planning, with the volunteering service being remarkably helpful. Everybody worked their hardest to be a part of something special together - it was a positive experience for many communities and local practices all coming together as one, and battling the virus for the whole population. The greatest lesson learnt from this challenge was the importance of teamwork and community, as this would not have been possible without the help of each person involved.”

The pandemic has affected everyone’s lives, and will surely continue to do so for a while. However, the vaccine can instil hope and optimism into many people’s minds, and everyone is playing their part in making the vaccination programme a success.