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“It’s a tough time in medicine”

15 April 2020

It’s a tough time in medicine, says our Trustee on the front line, renal consultant Adnan Sharif.

Nobody can face this much daily pressure and bear it alone, says renal consultant Adnan Sharif, who has spoken of the camaraderie of NHS staff holding each other up in what will possibly be the most challenging time in their careers.

Adnan is a nephrologist in Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and a trustee for Kidney Research UK.

Adnan Sharif at the Kidney Research UK Health Inequalities report launch.
Adnan Sharif, pictured centre, at the Kidney Research UK Health Inequalities report launch.

“It’s a tough time for everyone globally in medicine,” Adnan said. “More than ever, staff are supporting each other with buddy systems, extra care and compassion to boost morale,” he said. “Coffee and cake in the staff room has never felt more important.

“Seniors are making sure, more than ever, that junior doctors, nurses and auxiliaries are OK and vice versa. We cannot manage this alone. It is important we take care of each other.”

As with every setting across the country, the hospital’s resources are focused on Intensive Care Units, admissions and A&E.

For Adnan, nine out of 10 renal clinic appointments have been deferred and very few blood tests are being taken. Some appointments are on the telephone. Some clinics are via video links.

Consultants have gone from regular weekly working patterns to 12.5 hour shifts for four days on rotation. The pressure on everyone is great.

“At the QE alone, we have around 1,000 dialysis patents and some 1,400 transplant patients.” Adnan said.

“We have always worked very closely together in our renal unit, but we now have extra supportive measures to shore up staff working in these difficult circumstances.

“Simple things are important. For example, we have two Whatsapp chat groups. One is called ‘business’ to discuss important medical matters of the day. The other is called ‘personal’ where we can share happy stories, funny memes, things to make us smile. It keeps us going when the going gets tough. It can be quite demoralising if there’s been a bad day on the ward.

“In days off I should be resting, but that is not easy as there are emails and queries to pick up at this time of great unknowns. There is a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure we follow the best guidance for patient treatment,” he said.

In addition, there is the difficulty of working in protective equipment.

“We are wearing PPE on the wards and putting masks on before entering wards. Communication as a result can be difficult.

“We have a diverse population in Birmingham, especially of Asian and Eastern European communities, so in some ways we are used to making ourselves understood with impromptu sign language.”

The most difficult thing for Adnan is that for patients presenting with other conditions he can no longer send them for additional tests or scans.

“We understand how frustrating this is for patients.,” he said and is also thinking about what this means in the long term

As the nation claps for NHS workers Adnan says none of them see themselves as unsung heroes.

“This is our job. To care,” he said. “We chose this profession and we are doing what we know best. It is no different to firefighters or police entering dangerous situations. It is probably more worrying for family and friends as they watch us leave for work.”

While the world wishes for coronavirus lockdown to end, Adnan is among clinicians who hope the worst will ease by summer, but he said: “I don’t think things will be completely normal for six months.

“It’s a worrying time for patients but that’s not to say if you contract Covid it will be serious. Please follow the guidance. Social isolation really is important, as is simple hand washing. The vast majority of the general public who contract Covid-19 will recover.

“There’s uncertainty in a rapidly changing field, but all things must come to an end. We must and we will, pick up the pieces and carry on.”

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