Community COVID care centre marks patient milestone as case numbers start to decline
Published: Tuesday, 23 February 2021
A little-known NHS service that’s providing COVID care in the community in Lanarkshire has just marked a significant milestone,
The acute respiratory illness centre (ARIC) was set up in response to the pandemic last year as a way of seeing patients with confirmed or potential COVID in a safe environment, keeping GPs surgeries and A&E as far as possible, COVID-free for the safety of staff and patients.
Open 24/7, the ARIC is staffed by clinicians including GPs, a range of nursing staff and nurse practitioners and clinical support workers as well as a small team of doctors in training.
They’re seeing face-to-face around 35-50 patients a day, mostly people who are not getting better after self-care at home or whose COVID symptoms are worsening. Patients are usually referred to the centre by the COVID hub – a team of doctors and nurses who field calls and make decisions on the best place to send a particular patient for the right care.
Since last March, 30,000 calls have been handled by ARIC’s clinicians at the hub who invite patients to the centre for an assessment in person when clinically required.
Patients get a timed appointment slot and come into the building just before they’re due to be seen – the car park acts as a ‘virtual waiting room’. Some patients, if they are very unwell, are then transferred from the centre to A&E: in January 187 people went to hospital from the centre.
Dr Mike Coates is the clinical lead for the ARIC. He’s lived and worked in Lanarkshire for 21 years and, prior to the pandemic, was a specialist GP in the area’s out-of-hours service and the drug and alcohol services. Mike Coates regularly works 6pm-midnight, no mean feat for someone who has three young children including one with profound additional support needs, all of whom are being home schooled by his wife.
Talking about the service provided by the ARIC and the patients they’re seeing, he explains that they’re mostly seeing people with ‘COVID defining symptoms’. Some turn out to have serious illnesses unrelated to COVID-19 and there have been admissions to all specialities. “A significant number are known to have COVID, some might have COVID and some turn out not to have it. The important thing is that anyone who needs to be seen, is seen.
“We’re seeing lots of elderly patients but equally a lot of very unwell younger people” he says. “The biggest challenge for us has been the volume of patients we’re seeing and the medical complexity of the cases; there’s such a vast range of symptoms that people present with. “For us as GPs and clinicians, it’s very good to still be able to see patients face-to-face, albeit in difficult circumstances. “We’re lucky also to have a fantastic team of dedicated staff, with a very varied skills set. For our clinical fellows, it’s an invaluable learning experience in primary care that will stand them in good stead as they further their careers. “The whole-team aspect is the best bit of working in the centre and I mean everyone, from our incredible domestic staff to the volunteer drivers from Lifesavers charity, who bring patients without their own transport, to the centre.
There is even a father and daughter team working in the ARIC. Dr Richard Watson, a GP who is normally based at Craigallian surgery in Cambuslang, is working at the ARIC alongside his eldest daughter, Alice, also a GP.
One day a week, he looks after his granddaughter while Alice works a shift in the ARIC and then they work the afternoon shift together. “With the lockdown regulations, it is the only time that we get to chat in the warm” Richard says.
While the numbers being seen at the centre are starting to decline slightly, Mike Coates says there is no room for complacency.
“We are still seeing a lot of very unwell people, every day of the week. My advice would be to stick to the government’s advice – be patient – and if we all work together to reduce COVID transmission by sticking to the rules, we can all get out of this sooner.”
The Lanarkshire ARIC is one of a number of similar centres all over Scotland set up during the pandemic. It is located in Douglas Street Community Health Clinic in Hamilton.
Anyone who thinks they may have symptoms of Covid-19 should self-isolate and arrange a test immediately by calling 0800 028 2816 or by booking one in advance at :
To find out more about the services offered by NHS Lanarkshire, visit https://www.nhslanarkshire.scot.nhs.uk/experts/
To find details of services closest to you, use the services directory on NHS Inform: www.nhsinform.scot or go to NHS 24 at https://www.nhs24.scot/.