Disruption of regular health and care services ‘impacting vulnerable’ with long term conditions

Health and care charities have raised concerns that disruptions to services during the coronavirus pandemic are hitting people with serious health conditions.

Experts said it is vital patients get the support they need after several surveys pointed to people being reluctant to seek necessary care as a result of the pandemic.

A significant proportion of people with asthma and other lung conditions have actively avoided seeking healthcare during the pandemic, a new poll suggests.

Meanwhile, charities representing patients with neurodegenerative conditions said many had their care and support reduced or cancelled.

The poll of more than 8,000 people across the UK with lung conditions found that 23% experienced worse symptoms as a result of delaying or avoiding care during the pandemic.

More than a third (35%) of people living with lung conditions felt that they could not seek treatment either because they did not want to “over-burden the NHS” or because they were scared, according to the poll by Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation.

Among those questioned, 85% had experienced some sort of delays or disruptions to their care regime.

Dr Andy Whittamore (pictured), clinical lead for Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “Finding out that so many people with lung conditions felt that they shouldn’t seek help and care during lockdown is deeply worrying.

“As we head towards winter, it is vital that patients can access the help that they need.

“This should include routine care for conditions such as asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and bronchiectasis, and urgent care if they are getting an increase in their symptoms.

“The NHS is still open but will be put under tremendous strain if we don’t help keep people well ahead of the winter.

“Where face-to-face appointments are not possible the NHS should be providing telephone or video consultations. It is vital that everyone knows how to access the care that they need and they do not delay seeking medical advice.”

It comes as a survey of 2,000 people with Parkinson’s disease, conducted by the charity Parkinson’s UK, found that nearly half (48%) who received formal care from a local authority before the pandemic said they were now receiving a reduced service.

A separate poll of people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) during the peak of the pandemic found that 19% had their care and support reduced or cancelled, according to the MS Society.

Steve Ford, chief executive of Parkinson’s UK, said: “This pandemic has revealed an under-funded social care system, with staff trying to deliver care. However it has fallen short at a time when people need it most.

“Some of our supporters did not feel comfortable receiving their usual care, due to concerns about the risk of being infected and poor supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), but more must be done to support everyone during a crisis.

“To ensure no one is forgotten, the Government needs to establish a post-lockdown recovery plan, as it has done for health services.”

Nick Moberly, chief executive of the MS Society, added: “During the pandemic, reduced and cancelled care has meant people with MS have been denied the vital support they need to live full and independent lives.

“For years people with long-term health conditions have been forced to bear the brunt of a broken social care system – the Government cannot let this continue. Without a concrete plan to fix it, more strain will be put on the already overstretched NHS, and the hundreds of thousands that depend on social care in the UK will remain an afterthought.”

It comes after the Royal College of Physicians said that doctors are worried that their patients’ health may have worsened as a result of service disruptions during the pandemic.

Last week, Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England, wrote to all hospitals asking them to “accelerate the return to near-normal levels of non-Covid health services, making full use of the capacity available in the ‘window of opportunity’ between now and winter”.

Meanwhile, the Health Foundation think tank raised concerns about the proportion of GPs who are at high risk of Covid-19.

It said that across England, at least 8% (3,632) of GPs are deemed at ‘high risk’ of death from Covid-19. The charity suggested that a third of family doctors who single-handedly manage a GP practice are at high risk of death from Covid-19.

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