Coronavirus: Retired GP felt a 'moral obligation' to return

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Dr Henk StiggleboutImage source, Henk Stigglebout
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Dr Henk Stigglebout was enjoying retirement in Europe before he heard the NHS clarion call

Since his retirement from a long career as a GP, Henk Stigglebout has enjoyed touring Europe in his VW campervan.

But when coronavirus struck he felt compelled to respond to calls for retired doctors to go back to work at home in Flintshire.

"I feel a moral obligation to go back to work," the 63-year-old said.

He is still waiting for a role weeks after re-registering. The Welsh Government said it was working on a fast-track process for people like him.

"I do have something useful to offer, even if it is only my experience and hopefully some wisdom," Dr Stigglebout said.

"Hearing and reading about the hardship of frontline medical staff in Spain and Italy made me fear the worst for our situation in weeks to come.

"My clinical acumen may have blunted a bit, but I imagine I might be able to help with telephone triage or release current GPs by manning their practice while they perform more challenging roles.

"Personally, I think a lot of people would be very happy if I could work in my old general practice and relieve the pressures there.

"I feel I am skilled in having difficult discussions with sick patients, their carers and relatives, so that might be a useful role."

Image source, Henk Stigglebout
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Dr Henk Stigglebout has concerns about returning but his wife Lorna "would expect no less" of him

Married for 35 years to wife Lorna and a father of four children, the Netherlands-born 63-year-old worked in the Shotton Lane Surgery, in Shotton, before his retirement.

He has concerns about being faced with coronavirus patients, but is keen to do his bit to help his NHS colleagues.

"I am slightly ambivalent about returning because of the slight possibility of dying as a consequence.

"In my mind, I realise this is a remote chance and I have always been extremely lucky with my health," he said.

"At the same time being confronted with the death of younger people than myself who have returned to work is a sobering thought."

Dr Stigglebout said his wife came from a farming community and was "extremely level-headed" with a "huge dose" of common sense and understanding.

"She would expect no less from me than that I did something useful," he said.

"I believe all my children view the whole situation with a little trepidation but none of them have tried to talk me out of this."

His potential role in fighting coronavirus is not the family's only concern, as they are battling to get their youngest son and daughter-in law back to the UK from Ethiopia, after they became stuck as borders closed across the globe. His daughter's wedding, planned for July, is likely to be cancelled.

It is a challenging time, both personally and professionally.

But Dr Stigglebout hopes important lessons will be learned from the coronavirus crisis.

"It is amazing to see how we are coping and rising to the challenge. I have no doubt that after this there will be much better planning and preparing this sort of scenario in the future, including stockpiling of useful equipment.

"The use of telephone, Skype and Facebook will forever change the face of medicine."

Dr Stigglebout said that, after re-registering with the General Medical Council, he was still waiting for a role in the NHS.

"After a few phone calls and two weeks, I resigned myself to the fact that this was not going to be a speedy process," he said.

Image source, Henk Stigglebout
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Dr Stigglebout and his wife have seen their family life affected by the global pandemic

Dr Stigglebout said he believed politicians had given the public the impression that returning doctors and nurses were all about to start work.

"It is now national headline news that my situation is far from unique and that there are thousands of health professionals trying to return and finding that they cannot find where to apply or who to speak to," he said.

The Welsh Government said it would like to thank Dr Stigglebout and others like him who have answered the call to return to work.

"We've had a really good response from former GPs to help the NHS in Wales," a spokesperson said.

"NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership is working with health boards and GP practices to set up a fast-track process to get returnees back into the NHS. Further details will be available shortly."

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which runs health services in the area where Dr Stigglebout's former practice is situated, said it had contacted any retired workers about coming back to work.

It said: "We received a large number of offers from former colleagues within a short space of time and have drafted in additional support to work through these applications.

"We are aware that in some cases applicants have not yet received feedback but we are working hard to respond to everyone in the coming days."