In the UK, the lockdown continues. There is a growing realisation that disruption to both normal life and healthcare systems is likely to continue for many months yet. The UK surgical training bodies have made some changes to ARCP procedures to account for this temporary hiatus or disruption to training. However, even when the dust has settled and we return to a new normal, it is clear already that we will be training and operating in a slightly different world.
Telemedicine has come to the fore. Some will argue that this is long overdue and that this COVID-driven innovation is here to stay. For many patients and clinicians, there are high levels of satisfaction. The pandemic has forced sometimes creaking NHS IT systems to be upgraded in order to cope. For many consultations, and especially for subspecialties that cover a wide geographical remit, telephone or video consultations will likely become a standard part of the practice. This is a new skill set and one that will need to be incorporated into training programs.
Right now, many trainees are yearning for more time in the operating theatre having been re-deployed whilst tertiary services become significantly more consultant delivered. In all probability, a backlog affecting surgical subspecialties is quietly growing, rarely mentioned in the press or daily government briefings. At some point soon, it will be all hands to the pump and training opportunities will be plentiful again.
The pre-pandemic status quo of geographically distant courses and conferences is likely to change. There are several examples of regional teaching programs being consolidated into national zoom-based sessions - with extremely positive feedback. We need to question whether the industry that has developed around conferences and meetings is really still viable; especially considering its costs in terms of time, money, and carbon emissions. It may be that in-person specialty conferences and congresses occur at a much lower frequency, augmented by material delivered electronically. Yes, there is great value in the ‘corridor conversations’ and a good social program, but we may need to learn to value fewer of these occasions.
Surgeons and other healthcare providers have a responsibility to use this pandemic to reassess and realign priorities positively. Innovation is innate amongst the surgical workforce, particularly amongst trainees, and we need this trait to enhance performance in the post-COVID era. In the meanwhile, stay safe and healthy. And remember that for the remainder of 2020, eoSurgical is providing SurgTrac software free to all trainees. Keep your skills up to scratch in lockdown!
Consultant neurosurgeon, Edinburgh