In Review

Intensive Care by Gavin Francis 

An ‘unmissable account’ of the coronavirus pandemic by Gavin Francis, who works as a GP in Scotland

Gavin Francis, a GP who works in Edinburgh and Orkney, has written an “unmissable account” of the coronavirus pandemic, said Kate Saunders in The Times. In Intensive Care, he uses Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year as a “kind of template”. The book begins on 13 January last year, with GPs being warned about a “novel Wuhan coronavirus”. Over the next few weeks, Francis pushed the bulletin to the back of his mind: he attended a Burns night celebration and flew to New York for a conference – while some of his patients thought nothing of travelling to northern Italy for skiing trips. But once Covid-19 became established in Scotland (the first death there was recorded on 13 March), Francis was “plunged into a strange new world in which he had to deal not only with the deadly virus itself, but all the problems that came with it” – from the toll on his patients’ mental health, to the increased injuries related to alcohol and domestic violence. 

Francis thinks the Government’s response was far too sluggish, said Anoosh Chakelian in the New Statesman. Of the delay in imposing lockdown, he writes: “We’d been like toddlers on the beach, fascinated by the waves edging ever closer up the sand, but who still squeal with shock when the water rolls over our toes.” Yet he is clear-eyed about the “devastation” caused by the restrictions: he argued last June for Scottish schools to reopen sooner. Another worry brought on by the pandemic is that it presages a wholesale shift to “telemedicine”, said Allan Massie in The Scotsman. Francis dislikes seeing patients online, arguing that it undermines the “core of medicine”. By turns alarming and inspiring, this book will open your eyes. “I can’t recommend it too strongly.”

Profile/Wellcome Collection 208pp £16.99; The Week Bookshop £16.99

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