As the government continues to relax lockdown, one of the saddest aspects of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is the increase in the numbers dying at home from non-related illnesses. The Guardian quotes the council chair of the British Medical Association, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, as saying “the devastation wrought by Covid-19 spreads far beyond the immediate effects of the illness itself”. It also states that A&E visits and patients attending hospitals with heart attacks have halved during the pandemic.

It may be quite a dilemma deciding whether your illness is serious enough to risk exposing yourself to a scary disease like COVID-19. Yet the guidance from the NHS is clear: “It’s still important to get medical help if you need it.” Also, as one might imagine, the NHS is pulling out all the stops to ensure the chances of infection are minimised.

This week, our volunteer, Claire, has had cause to visit both her dentist and her doctor plus collect a prescription from her local pharmacy. These are her experiences:

As someone with anxiety, I was dreading having to visit my GP and doctor during this pandemic. However, I was greatly relieved by what I found. For a start, my GP practice has installed an online consultation system called eConsult. This asks you to list your symptoms to which a doctor then responds via email or phone. This means I don’t need to visit the surgery unless I have to. However, in my case, I did. On arrival, I found they’d installed a one-way system and you weren’t allowed in if there was someone stood at reception. They’ve also stopped the touch-screen check-in system and you have to wait for the receptionist. There was only one other person in the waiting room (which has now been re-designed to enforce social distancing) which I’m told is something they manage by arranging their appointments accordingly. All the staff were kitted out in PPE as well, which I also found greatly reassuring. In the event, I was in and out in no time – a great change from having to hang around like usual! – and I feel they did a great job in minimising infection – even giving me a squirt of hand sanitiser as I left!

The doctor gave me a prescription. So I then had to go to my local pharmacy to collect it. When I arrived at the pharmacy, again I found that only a few people were allowed in at once and obey the markings they’d put up to maintain social distancing. They’d also installed a screen at the counter and all the staff were wearing masks. Again, the wait was minimal and I was in and out in no time.

As my problem was two-fold, I also had to visit the dentist. This was the one I feared most. I know coronavirus is spread through the eyes, ears and mouth. So I absolutely dreaded having to visit the dentist – almost to the point I was crying in terror. On arrival, however, I found the place was like Fort Knox! Instead of walking straight in, you had to ring the doorbell to be allowed in by a member of reception and you weren’t allowed in unless you had an appointment. After I was let in, I had to put my coat and bag in a plastic bag for protection and was lead to a sink where I had to wash my hands. After that, I was lead to a side room where my pulse and temperature were recorded to check I didn’t have coronavirus. Again, all the staff were kitted out in PPE and the dentist even wore a plastic visor to minimise infection even further. Then, just like the doctor, they gave me a squirt of hand sanitiser as I left.

Of course, with coronavirus, you cannot ever be 100% confident that you won’t be infected but I am confident that the GP, dentist and pharmacy I visited are doing all they can to minimise it. In fact, I feel more worried about the chippy tea I got afterwards for a treat!