Dr Atul Sharma, GP Partner in Greenwich

Dr Atul Sharma has been a GP for 11 years, and a GP Partner at Plumstead Health Centre PMS since 2016. He is the Clinical Director of the Unity Greenwich PCN since 2019.

Here he talks about her experience working in Greenwich.

Recollections from the past year

We first became aware of Covid in January or February of last year, but it wasn’t until March that we started to get some proper information coming through. We had to adapt quickly, making rapid changes to how we saw people at the surgery. We quickly moved to remote consultation where possible, but we kept carrying out vital services such as smear tests and childhood vaccinations throughout. We also had to adapt to a high level of PPE.

We started the vaccination process in December. At the time I couldn’t believe it was developed so rapidly. We were the first PCN site to go live in Greenwich on 14th December. I would say we were cautiously optimistic at first!

It has actually been a tremendous community effort

The first few days were logistically very challenging, and we had long queues outside the centre. We delivered 950 doses in 3 days. People were a bit hesitant at the start, but then they started to come. By the time we had moved on to the 2nd cycle, which for the most vulnerable patients at that time was 3 weeks, demand was very high.

We had to find a vaccination site, and set up the site from scratch. It was a huge challenge. The vaccination centre at Plumstead was set up in one week and covers 10 practices across 2 primary care network sites, serving an area of around 70,000 people.

Everyone has worked together from the start. We haven’t stopped vaccinating since December, with many people working 7 days a week during the busiest period. And it’s not just clinical staff. There are local volunteers too. I’m very proud of them.

It has actually been a tremendous community effort. The army even helped one point! And local businesses and community have fed us.

Dr Atul Sharma and colleagues at a Charlton Athletic FC vaccination pop-up

Looking forward to tackling health inequality in our system

I hope after all of this we will continue to work collaboratively, tackling health inequality in our system. This is an area of high deprivation, and there are lots of other challenges. It is not just Covid. Sometimes I wonder why it has taken the pandemic to sit up and notice the health inequalities. My team has done wonderful and inspiring work in engaging the BAME community by developing a vaccine roving model specific to the communities using places of faith such as churches and temples. To date we have more than 10 such satellite roving clinics inviting and welcoming people from any social, financial or legal status. We hope to continue to work on the goodwill generated so far.

Finally, there is one thing I would like to add. We work for the NHS, and we want to protect everyone. We work for the people, but we are people too. We are human.