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Monday, January 17, 2022

Award-nominated Bradford doctor talks about life on the frontlines and the importance of modernising the GP surgery

A top doctor who saved a clinic collapse has spoken out about working during the pandemic, the importance of modernising the GP surgery, and delivering free CPR training to communities in Bradford.

A GP from Bradford is up for the national General Practitioner (GP) of the year Award after being nominated by his patients and colleagues for his dedication and passion to his work.

Dr Sohail Abraham Ahmed, 38, took over his practice in Halifax two years ago and has worked relentlessly to transform the surgery. It has gone from being months from collapse to a thriving medical centre where patients come first.

Dr Ahmed said: “The practice was in a bad state, it was on the brink of folding. At the time, I was just doing the odd shift here and there and it came to my attention that the surgery had only a couple of months to survive if nobody took it over, so I thought I would give it a go and get involved.”

Dr Ahmed has worked all over from Bedford and Luton to Scarborough and York but decided to come back to Bradford, his hometown, a few years ago. “Home is home, so I came back to Bradford in the end”, Dr Ahmed said.

Taking on the new clinic during the pandemic, patient safety and satisfaction was at the forefront for Dr Ahmed. Increasing social media presence to make interaction with patients easier was one way he revamped the surgery. Another way was through implementing a monthly online patient advocacy group, that fed back concerns and suggestions for improvement.

Dr Ahmed took over his Halifax practice two years ago.

“Many things happen in a GP surgery, it is not just the clinical side where a patient sees a doctor or a nurse, there are many different facets to it.

“One of the key areas was to develop a social media presence. If you look at a lot of surgeries, their websites look like they’re from the 1980s or 1990s, they are very basic and not very interactive.

“If you look at many surgeries in the area, you wouldn’t know that there has been a pandemic by looking at their social media.

“The lack of social media presence from local practices is odd because so many patients use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In an age of technology, general practices are way behind.”

Dr Ahmed rebranded his practice’s website himself, designing the interface and creating a space where patients can book online consultations.

“At the moment, we as a practice, provide double the number of online consultations compared to the second practice. We are doing on average, 70 to 80 online consultations a day when some surgeries don’t even have online access in Calderdale.

“It is just like sending a text, that’s how easy it is to get through to us. You just go online and answer a few questions and we get back to you within 24 hours and that is unheard of, it was unheard of before the pandemic.”

Online consultations mean more people can access help from their GP and a reduction in wait times. Patients who then need to be seen face-to-face can do so quicker, however, the transition to virtual appointments has not been an easy one.

Dr Ahmed said: “We are launching a survey in the new year to see what patients think about online consultations, but it is an odd one. There is a lot of negativities surrounding general practises at the moment.

Dr Ahmed rebranded his practice’s website, making it more user-friendly.

“Sometimes when there are changes that are being made, they are perceived as a negative. The whole thing about no face-to-face appointments and you can’t see your GP isn’t true.

“People see online consultations as being ‘fobbed off’ and think that it is a cop-out and that they will get a computerised answer, which isn’t the case. For a lot of people, there is a barrier in understanding, but online appointments are so good.”

The surgery has achieved several accreditations including Mindful Employer, Disability Confident employer, Pride in Practice, and veteran-friendly status.

“Recognising pride in practice meant recognising gender equality and mental health for example. Not just patients’ mental health but staff as well, especially during the pandemic. Raising mental health awareness and wellbeing for our staff was so important.”

Working during the pandemic was tough on Dr Ahmed’s mental health at times. “The pandemic was very difficult for me. I lost a lot of friends and a lot of family members, and it is something I’ve reflected on quite a bit.

“I lost my father-in-law, three uncles, my grandfather, and two close friends in a short space of time and during that time, I’ve never been in a war, but you just get on with it and are a bit shellshocked”, he said.

Dr Ahmed added: “You don’t get time to mourn or time to think in this profession. I just needed to get on with it, for my staff and my patients.

Dr Ahmed believes that life support training is a skill that everyone should learn.

“We were seeing death so frequently. So many of our patients passed away including the elderly who I knew and got on with so well, people were dying, and it was so difficult, but you had to be strong and keep going.

“As doctors, we were the people the public was looking towards. We couldn’t have time off; we couldn’t be sick. Even for the funerals I had, I would go in the afternoon and be back in the evening.”

Dr Ahmed is also involved with local projects. He sits as the vice chair of Bradford 4 Better, a community group that aims to make the district safer and cleaner as well as being the founder and film producer of Aelixir Media, a hyper-local media organisation.

Talking about Bradford 4 Better, Dr Ahmed said: “I’ve been part of the group since the beginning, I live in Heaton where it was formed. The group started with a few locals doing a clean-up and it has now snowballed into a movement of community action across Bradford.

Within the organisation, Dr Ahmed is running a project called Bradford Lifesavers, where he provides free life support training for communities. “I used to teach and train students and medical professionals in life support training and part of that is training the public as well”, Dr Ahmed said.

He added: “I realised that there is a huge gap in public knowledge about life support training which is basic CPR. It is not a skill that is taught in schools or generally taken up by the masses. It is not there and available to people.

“To learn CPR, it is usually a minimum of £50 up to £150 sometimes to learn it, and unless they need it for work, they are not going to go ahead and do that and pay that sort of money. I’ve always thought that is unfair and shouldn’t be the case because life support affects everybody.

“Anyone could have a heart attack or collapse and need that life support training and I believe it is a basic skill that everyone should have. It is an absolute shame that people don’t.

“People must learn in their own environment, so we’ve provided the training in a mosque, in a church, and will be delivering the project in the central library soon and several schools who are picking it up with parents and children involved.

“If kids learn life support at eleven or twelve, they will never forget it and it could save a life.”

As a medical student in Hull Dr Ahmed got involved with the local theatre, where he learnt the basics of writing and acting, which progressed into filmmaking.

Now, he runs Aelixir Media a group that promotes grassroots filmmaking. “Unfortunately, there is not much support for homegrown grassroots talent, especially from an ethnic minority background.

“I believe from my background in healthcare there is an element of healing and wellbeing when it comes to creativity. So, it doesn’t have to be that you are prescribed tablets to help you with a certain problem. I found that being creative can be useful and therapeutic for people who might have physical or mental health problems.”

For more information on the positive change Dr Ahmed is making in general practice then search #GP4Better on social media and #BradfordLiveSavers for anyone interested in signing up for free life support training.

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