The COVID-19 crisis has had a tremendous impact on the UK. The intensive attempts to control and limit the spreading of the virus have deeply affected multiple areas of our lives such as our income, our job security and our social connections. Humans rely on all these to lead happy, healthy and satisfying lives.
All local authorities together with the NHS have adjusted their efforts to offer better protection to the most vulnerable categories of people and to limit the spreading of the infection. Unfortunately, this pandemic occurs in the context of several years of health budget reductions. The NHS does everything possible to cater to the needs of people infected with this virus, while also taking care of people suffering from other diseases and medical conditions. The quality of our social care services has already been eroded by years after years of budget reductions and real-term public funding. At the same time, the demand for such services has been on the rise, leaving patients and professionals unprotected and vulnerable in the fight with this pandemic.
From one day to the next, most people keep an eye on the statistics on deaths and hospitalisations due to COVID-19. However, data sources are far from perfect, as there are many aspects not accounted for in these reports. Yet, the terrible toll of the COVID-19 pandemic starts to show its ugly shape, allowing us to gain better understanding of the negative effects of this global health crisis.
Over the next month or so, the Health Foundation will be issuing some charts, graphs and notes, aiming to shed some light on the different dimensions of the COVID-19 impact on the health care system and on the lives of ordinary people. We’ve identified at least four dimensions, as follows.
The Direct Impact of the Pandemic
The first dimension is the impact of COVID-19 on the general population, impact that has materialised in deaths and severe illness. According to early statistics from China and Italy, the virus was more prone to attacking older and sickly individuals, people with underlying conditions or chronic diseases. Apparently the infection was taking a heavier toll on the lives of male rather than female patients. The pattern and the profile of patients needing intensive care as a consequence of getting infected is the same across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Impact on Emergency and Acute Health Care Services
The second dimension is the indirect impact on individuals suffering from acute conditions or in need of emergency care. It took a while until the NHS managed to re-design their services to cater to a bigger number of patients, in order to be able to care for those with COVID-19 without impacting the level of care provided to other categories of illness. Soon after the beginning of the health care crisis, the NHS released a series of guides aimed at helping hospital specialists with the treatment of non-COVID-19 patients. Also, many hospitals redeployed some of their staff and tried to postpone patient appointments whenever possible.
General Practice and Other Non-Acute Health Care Services
The third dimension of this impact has hit patients suffering from chronic illness or those in need for less urgent care. The management of people with chronic conditions is one of the major tasks of general practice. Since the beginning of the pandemic, all general practice services have been severely disrupted. Many of these services have migrated to remote triage, online assessments and phone conversations. In order to see a GP or another category of health professional, an individual needed to pass through these remote care stages. Also, GPs were allowed to defer some of their day to say tasks such as the health checks to elderly patients, and the routine exams. At the same time, the general population was given instructions to reach out to the NHS 111 in case of COVID-19 symptoms rather than contacting their GP.
Social Distancing and the Lockdown
These measures were meant to flatten the COVID-19 transmission curve. However, they took a heavy toll on the mental health of people, as well as on a wide range of services including osteopathy therapy.