DOCTOR and author Gavin Francis has revealed that he fears the coronavirus pandemic is having huge effects on our mental health.

The Edinburgh GP, who has just published a new book, Intensive Care, on his experiences during the first few months of the pandemic, believes that lockdown and the closure of schools has resulted in “enormous harms” to many.

Speaking to The Herald Magazine, Dr Francis said that the need to reduce the spread of the virus has led to a real flare-up of mental health issues.

“You could see the government was doing everything it could to avoid a measurable harm, which was covid deaths among adults because that is a statistic that would be on the front of every newspaper. A terrifying statistic,” Dr Francis said. “But there were innumerable, less measurable harms still being perpetrated.”

“I don’t envy the politicians making these choices, but, essentially, because the deaths were measurable, everything was done to mitigate that. But there were enormous harms being done by keeping the kids off school, by enforcing everybody to stay home, by the shutdown of massive sectors of the economy.

“That’s before we get on to the enormous harm done to the elderly people told to shield and to be away from anybody, to not see their grandchildren for month after month after month. And I’m seeing real outcomes of that now, after almost a year of this.”

Over the last year Dr Francis has seen a rise in incidents of self-harm, panic attacks and psychosis. As early as last March, he revealed, much of his GP work was related to mental health concerns.

“It was happening so fast, partly because I am in in the city centre of Edinburgh and so much of the economy of that part of Scotland is devoted to tourism,” he said. “There’s a lot of guesthouses there, a lot of people who depend on tourists. And suddenly that was all blown away.

“So, I was seeing the effects of people not just coming to terms with a very dangerous, life-threatening pandemic infection, but also the collapse of their businesses, especially at that time when it wasn’t clear what the economic support measures would be.”

Dr Francis also expressed concerns that there will be pressure on GPs to continue digital-first treatment even after the pandemic has ebbed away.

“For some of my hospital colleagues that’s a positive thing,” he accepted. “For some specialists who conduct clinics with people all over Scotland it’s been a tremendous thing to be able to do a lot of this remotely. But for general practice it’s completely different. We know our patients. We have relationships that have been built up over years of seeing them face to face.

“But, as time goes on, those relationships built up will get more distant and the idea that we will be left with clinicians only ever seeing their patients over some kind of Zoom link is, to me, quite frightening. It wouldn’t be any kind of medicine that I want to practice in the longer term.

“We need to be able to see people and I hope that we can as soon as possible.”

Read the full interview with Gavin Francis in The Herald Magazine today