Professor Ahmet Fuat, Darlington GP and chairman of the town’s primary care network, describes the strain he and his colleagues are under

“On a personal note many GPs who are themselves potentially vulnerable are having to make very difficult decisions which go against our instinct to care for my patients.

“I refer to the fact that for the first time in almost 34 years as a Darlington GP I have had to make the decision to stop seeing patients face to face. My history of having two coronary artery stents for coronary artery disease and then a brutal regime of surgery and then chemo-radiotherapy for tonsillar cancer, along with my advancing years (60 in June) puts me in a relatively high risk category.

“I feel terribly guilty about this but when a public health colleague said ‘Ahmet you will be no use to anyone on a ventilator’ the penny finally dropped. He did go onto to say that I can do a lot from home in advising nationally and locally and of course remote working can allow us to deal with patient questions, consult by telephone, deal with letters, blood and x-ray results and so on.

“I plead with patients to be patient with our staff who are all working under extreme strain and adapting to different ways of working so well and with great commitment. Don’t over order prescriptions or demand face to face appointments which will be offered under controlled conditions once trained by a clinician (doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner or paramedic) if really essential.

“Please don’t panic buy as the elderly, vulnerable need supplies as do critical care staff, hospital staff, GP staff are working 12 hour shifts and often much longer to care for you.

“There is enough food to go around if we all shop normally for ourselves and please help elderly neighbours who may not be able to get to the shops.

“These are extraordinary times and we need to pull together as a community with understanding and kindness to each other.”