With the easing of lockdown, our streets, , malls and other public areas are once again getting packed. In the latest , Dr Latifa Patel reminds us of the vital safety measures that we must not forget about to protect ourselves and those around us.
Dr Patel is a Paediatric Respiratory Junior Doctor working in a children’s hospital in the north west of England. Apart from her clinical role, she is the first South Asian origin woman to be elected as the acting representing body chair of the British Medical Association (BMA).
As the first member of her family to go to university, Latifa studied medicine at the University of Liverpool. Her attachment to the profession grew with every episode of the popular BBC show ‘Casualty’. “My family used to religiously sit down together and watch it.”
The medic recalls: “When my primary teacher asked me what I wanted to become, I said I wanted to become a nurse. She asked me why not a doctor? I said that nurses are women and doctors are men because that was being portrayed in the TV show back in the early 90’s.” It was then that the six-year-old realised that women can be doctors too.
Besides wanting to help people, Latifa enjoys working with . She says that it is her love of “helping them to be the best they can be and giving them the best start in life while we can and help them manage their symptoms so that they can live the best childhood possible.”
“The NHS isn’t a building nor is it an entity. It’s actually 1.4 million dedicated people who work so hard to keep it going. In times like the pandemic, we realise just how lucky we are to have a health service like the NHS.”
Although the NHS adapted rapidly to allow patients to access online services like virtual and telephonic appointments, Latifa draws that it has had on certain families.
“Ethnic minority families like us, those who don’t speak English as a first language, those who aren’t familiar with IT or using computers or might not have internet access did find it more difficult to access these appointments. That has been an unfortunate consequence of the NHS moving so quickly to a virtual platform.”
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Here, we explore her views on a range of these issues and also address some important Covid vaccine queries.
Can you please share your experience of getting the vaccine to fight Covid?
At the start of the pandemic, paediatric medicine wasn’t affected in the same way as adult medicine. Like all healthcare workers, we were asked to get vaccinated because we were at risk of getting Covid-19.
I was and I did a lot of work from home. They weren’t so sure about how the vaccines would impact pregnant women therefore I wasn’t offered one. However, after my daughter was born, I have been very happy to have had the vaccine. I know that I am not just protecting myself and my family but I am also protecting my daughter.
New research shows that not only is the vaccine safe for me but it is carrying over immunity and protection through my breastmilk to my daughter. Knowing that she is too young for the vaccine and I could protect her as her mum, that’s the greatest assurance I could have during a global pandemic.
What is your message to those in the community who may have doubts about getting vaccinated?
It’s completely understandable. We are in such an uncertain era but we are all in it together. Every corner of this world irrespective of your country, heritage, ethnicity, religion, background, colour, everyone is facing this Covid-19 pandemic together. We are all asking the same question- ‘is it safe?’.
I’m grateful that our patients have always respected and trusted us. In this situation as well, I say, trust us. We have all had the vaccine and looked at Covid-19 in the eye. We know what it can do. We have been with so many family members you couldn’t be with and held their hands through this. We want to make sure we protect as many people as possible. We are not asking you to take the vaccine without taking the vaccine ourselves.
The first people in this country to get the vaccine were the NHS staff along with the elderly because we needed to protect the staff so as to protect the patients. I think if your healthcare professionals, secretaries, domestic staff, managers and everyone in between has had it and they are okay then trust us this time. If you get Covid despite of being vaccinated, you are less likely to go into a hospital and end up on the ventilator in intensive care. You are less likely to die.
I do appreciate that it is scary and worrying. Everyone is entitled to know the facts but make sure the information you get is correct. The best way to do that is to ask a – pharmacists, GPs, practice nurses. There are lots of resources online like YouTube videos in different languages and off course the NHS website. Please try not to go on social media because it is not vetted and factual.
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Are precautionary measures like masks, sanitisers etc still necessary after being fully vaccinated?
I wear my mask when I go outside and I see others who aren’t wearing theirs. The mask is so important. It is not just protecting yourself but it is protecting other people. The pandemic isn’t over. It’s still going on and we mustn’t lose sight of that. We have got another heavy winter coming towards us and if we stop preparing, we risk having more problems. We need to be careful, sensible and abide by all the rules. It is a bit of social responsibility.
The mask is still important even if you have had two doses of the vaccine. Even if you are at a higher protection rate there is still a chance you can get Covid. There is still a chance that you can have asymptomatic covid and can spread it. We also know that within society, children and babies haven’t had the vaccines because they haven’t been eligible. Additionally, there are some people who are immunocompromised where the vaccine won’t work. That end of society isn’t protected. So those of us who are eligible should get the vaccine to ensure we protect everyone.
For those who might not have the symptoms but might have the virus, it is because we have been protected by . We all know that in life nothing is a 100 per cent guaranteed; no test, no procedure. There is always a chance that some people are not going to be protected. What we have seen over the last 18 months is that the virus is mutating. As it changes we may face even bigger challenges.
Can children contract Covid-19?
Yes, they can. In March 2020, the data we were getting was that it was very unlikely that children would get the virus or if they did have the virus it was very unlikely that they would become unwell. Certainly, in the first wave, we saw that children getting Covid weren’t impacted the same way as adults were.
The data we are seeing at the moment is showing that the new variants are actually causing more problems in younger adults in their 20s. It could be because this population was the last to be vaccinated. In hospitals, we are seeing younger people and some children getting unwell. There are cases of long covid where symptoms of Covid-19 have a long-lasting impact on the physical health; fatigue and muscular pain. We are seeing long Covid in children as well.
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What measures do you suggest parents should take to keep their children especially toddlers safe?
We should do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable particularly our children, our future:
Eligible parents should get vaccinated
If your child is eligible, discuss with your GP and get the jab once you are confident.
In an overcrowded closed room that lacks ventilation, always wear your masks.
Maintain a safe distance from others
Wash your hands
Avoid large crowds as much as possible
What have been some memorable moments during the course of the crisis since last year?
We did have to change our way of working. With quite a lot of unknowns and fear, people were worried about themselves, their friends and family, about keeping their patients safe- children we were treating and their families as well. As the pandemic progressed, we certainly got better at managing that.
In March 2020 when all healthcare services and hospitals in the UK were put on high alert, almost instantly everyone went into an emergency mode. Everyone was told to start protecting themselves by wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). During the lockdowns, we would go to work and there would be no traffic or cars on the road. Everything was shut. The NHS carried on though. We didn’t shut.
Something very pertinent to remember was that those first few doctors that we lost were all minority ethnic doctors like me and that hit home really hard. The BMA from the off start has recognised this pattern not just within the medical and healthcare workforce but also in social care. It was the ethnic minority nurses that died first. We have told the government that they need to investigate this.
That’s why we need to get vaccinated because we know that by being a minority ethnic we are at a greater risk of becoming unwell and ending up on the . Being pregnant during the pandemic, I knew that my baby and I were at greater risk because I am brown.
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What would be your message to those considering a career with the NHS?
It is very admirable and brilliant. The NHS is an expanding family. We would welcome everybody and anybody. That’s the beauty of the NHS team. We reflect the public. Fears and emotions; everything you are feeling, the NHS team will have felt it as well.
If there are any children or young adults out there, remember you can absolutely do it! I came from a family without any doctors or anyone going to university and I did it. There are lots of organisations that can support you. If you don’t succeed the first time, try again.
And girls can be doctors too. In fact, more entering medical school than men in the UK. It is lovely to see just as many female doctors as the male ones.
*NHS message: If you have had difficulty accessing appointments, ask for help and support. Some people are worried about having to go to a hospital but if you have a medical problem that needs to be seen, the A&E is always open. Our motto has always been the same- we are here, 24/7, free for all of the public- so go, seek help and medical advice.