‘The main problem with this virus is that you can spread it for quite a while’

‘The main problem with this virus is that you can spread it for quite a while’

18 March 2020

A LOCAL GP has said that he has never experienced anything like the coronavirus threat in his 33 years as a doctor.

Dr Ultan McGill, from Killyleagh Surgery, said that the surgery stopped offering appointments since last Thursday and that the doors to the Downpatrick Road centre have been closed to the public.

However, he added that he believed his surgery and others would be able to cope with any surge of cases due to the mutual support from other local practices.

Dr McGill also confirmed that so far the surgery has not had any reported cases of COVID-19.

He said: “There’s no patient that we have at the moment who has coronavirus, although I know there are some cases in the wider community.

“Yes it’s out there and there are people who have it who don’t know they have it. They will probably recover but it’s the vulnerable people that they might come into contact that we fear for.”

Dr McGill said it was essential that the surgery was restricted to any patient who might have the virus and in turn for the surgery’s doctors, nurses and other staff not to pass it on internally or onwards into the community.

He said: “All contacts are potentially risky and you want to try and manage that risk. We don’t want people coming into the surgery if they are vulnerable and then picking up the virus and you don’t want to bring the virus into the home of anyone who is vulnerable.

“You want to try to be able to keep the service going and want to keep the staff well, particularly the admin and receptionist staff because they can’t work remotely.

“If I’m self-isolating, I can work remotely from home and still make phone calls. If we have no one here to take the calls, then the whole thing folds.”

Dr McGill believes that closing the surgery to appointments and restricting walk-in access was the right approach in the changing circumstances.

“Closing the doors to a physical presence in the surgery is not the same as closing off access,” he said. “In fact, the mode of access has just changed and in many ways the access is better as when we get a call, we can return it.

“The situation is strange,” he acknowledged. “It’s not actually what you are doing is strange but it’s the right thing to do in an abnormal situation.”

Dr McGill said that while in the early days some people likened the coronavirus to ‘flu, it was far from it in his opinion.

“People said the same thing about swine ‘flu but it was a different kettle of fish. I’ve never come across anything like the coronavirus so far. It’s all very uncertain and there’s no doubt it’s a bit worrying. 

“The problem with this virus is that you can spread it for quite a while before you know you have it. That’s the big difficulty with it. With most flus, you get sick within two to three days and you are in your bed so you’re not spreading it.”

He said that there was good support for him and other GPs on a GP Facebook support group and as a member of Down GP Federation of Family Practices.

“On the Facebook group, there’s a lot of good advice as what somebody may find difficulty with, some other member will have an answer for it,” said Dr McGill.

“The GP practices in the Down area have always worked well together. If it came to a situation where a practice had major difficulties in delivering a service, I think we are very well placed for other practices to give us a helping hand.”

Dr McGill also gave his advice, based on what the Public Health Agency is currently advising people to do.

He said: “There’s no treatment for this condition but if somebody has a high temperature or persistent cough and some mild breathing difficulties they probably don’t need to contact the doctor or call 111 or go to an emergency department. They should take paracetamol for their high temperature, drink plenty, take it easy at home and self-isolate for 14 days.

“Usually for most people, this will past and they will be able to go out to work and out and about in a week’s or so time.

“However, if they start to feel a bit unwell during this time, they should ring their GP for advice. If they get very unwell, that’s experiencing significant breathing difficulties, then they should go to emergency department.”