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Dual role of feeding and caring for the nation

As well as helping to feed the nation, members of farming families have also been caring for the sick throughout the Covid-19 crisis. Hannah Binns speaks to some of those juggling two vital roles. 

Dr Eilir Hughes is the son of a dairy farmer and works as a GP in Nefyn, North Wales.
Dr Eilir Hughes is the son of a dairy farmer and works as a GP in Nefyn, North Wales.
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Dual role of feeding and caring for the nation

Medical practitioners from rural backgrounds have told how they juggled dual roles in feeding and caring for the nation throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Dr Eilir Hughes, a son of a dairy farmer who works as a GP in Nefyn, North Wales, isolated himself from the family dairy farm to prevent spreading the virus after working in hospital wards.

 

Dr Hughes said people’s fear of catching the virus meant many avoided seeking medical attention, despite doctors encouraging the use of telephone and video consultations.

 

He said: "Rural people are very resilient so there was also a degree of people gritting their teeth and baring it and understanding some cases had to be prioritised."

 

He added the time away from his family took its toll on his own mental health.

 

“After three months, it became clear people were finding it very difficult to manage their conditions and needed medical attention, and I am pleased to see people getting in touch with us again," he said.


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Drawing on farming knowledge in his approach to the pandemic, Dr Hughes helped to establish one of Wales’ first Covid-19 respiratory assessment units.

 

“As the clinical lead for the area, I was involved in planning and delivering the community health service’ response to Covid-19, and applied similar principles to good animal husbandry, such as segregating sick patients to one centralised place, to help prevent the virus spreading," he added.

 

Dr Hughes has also produced a video, in collaboration with other key workers, thanking the public for keeping their communities safe, which can be viewed below.

 

Anxious

 

For Heidi Sowerby, a part time paediatric nurse and dairy farmer from Penrith, Cumbria, the last few months have been an ’anxious’ time.

 

As well as the strain brought on by the pandemic, the farm was hit by a 2ppl milk price cut from buyer Meadow Foods.

 

Ms Sowerby, who runs Crossfell Holsteins alongside an advanced breeding company in Kirkby Thore with her partner John Metcalf, said: "I wondered how we were going to cope but I think at times like these you just pull together to do everything you can to get through.

 

"The key thing for me was making sure I did not bring the virus home, so it meant only me using the car, getting changed and showered as soon as I returned home and putting my clothes straight in the wash.

 

"Our four-year-old son Jack was usually in bed when I got home which was good because I wanted as little interaction as possible to limit any potential virus spread."

 

Limited

 

 

Charities such as Field Nurse in Lancashire, which has provided basic health screening checks and support for mental health issues signposting farmers to various organisations since 2016, continued to help rural communities but have been limited in their services.

 

Christine Parkinson, Field Nurse trustee, said: “It was a hard and difficult decision to stop going into the auction marts during the Covid-19 pandemic but safeguarding everyone was paramount.

 

“As we see a lot of farmers struggling with isolation and mental health, we introduced a helpline, but heard from less than half of farmers we normally would have done.”

 

Field Nurse has since resumed its services at local auction marts, but Ms Parkinson added she was worried the effects of Covid-19 on farmers financially and in terms of isolation could be worse than ever before.

Advice for keeping safe at farmers' marts

Dr John Locke, a GP and branch chairman of NFU Scotland’s Dumfries and Galloway region, said farmers and crofters should look at how they keep their livestock healthy as the sale season gets underway.

 

He said: “We know diseases such as bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD), bovine TB or Johnes spread without symptoms and we also take effective measures to avoid infecting other animals.

 

“Covid-19 is no different and just like BVD eradication, we need to make it hard for the virus to find a host to survive.

 

“Many of us will be attending breeding sales over the next two months and any disruption will have severe consequences.

 

“For business and health reasons, take care as you mix at markets this autumn, follow market guidance, and do not forget biosecurity at home to keep yourself, staff and families safe.”

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