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Covid-19: Most patients with long-term conditions can still access primary care, but face hospital cancellations


By Awil Mohamoud
Reporter
11 June 2020

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Three-quarters of patients who needed GP treatment for a long-term health condition ‘still received the services they required’ during the Covid-19 pandemic, a survey has found.

The Understanding Society survey of 3,414 people with long-term health problems, conducted in April, found that patients struggled to access hospitals, but were able to, largely, access primary care services.

The data shows that 98% of those who needed prescription medications were still able to access them, and 65% could still see their pharmacist.

However, out-patient hospital appointments were cancelled for 42% of those with long-term conditions including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer. A further 7% said they cancelled their own appointment. Only 6% ultimately received alternative care.

Cancer patients reported facing the least disruption among those surveyed, despite only 40% having their scheduled NHS appointment go ahead.

For all other health conditions, over two-thirds of patients experienced cancelled appointments. Notably, 70% of diabetes patients received a cancellation.

The findings contribute to growing concerns about the future impact of delayed care following the pandemic.

Professor Michaela Benzeval, who led the survey, said: ‘Our data is able to show how many people are experiencing delayed treatments in the UK because of the pandemic. There has been a focus on cancer treatment being delayed, but our data shows that people with all types of long-term health conditions have been affected by a reduction in NHS treatments.’

‘Because our data is longitudinal we will continue to follow people over time and assess subsequent impacts on their lives.’

Responding to the findings, Health Foundation chief executive Dr Jennifer Dixon said the high rate of cancellations suggest that ‘we may be storing up greater health problems for the future and underlines the huge challenge the NHS has faced in trying to provide routine care while also treating Covid-19 patients’.

‘It’s evident that many people’s needs may have gone unmet during the lockdown, meaning their conditions may have worsened.

‘Urgent action is now needed to ensure that those who need regular, ongoing treatment, are able to get it when they need it.

A ‘strong public health message’ that gives patients ‘confidence the NHS is safe and open for business’ is now required to reassure those worried about accessing health services for fear of infection, she added.

Last month, GPs told Management in Practice’s sister publication, Pulse, they were concerned that ‘hundreds’ of cancer referrals – including those deemed urgent – were being rejected by their local hospital during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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