While overall public confidence in accessing primary and secondary care services returned during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic this summer, some groups of patients were more reluctant than others to access services, data has suggested.
In a survey, only 36% of people from BAME backgrounds reported using health services since lockdown began, compared to 42% overall. The statistics also showed that BAME people were more likely to have considered using health services, before deciding not to (9% compared with 5% overall).
Other groups were also more likely to say they felt uncomfortable accessing their local hospital – 25% of people aged 65+ and 34% of people with a disability, though there was less variation around how people from these groups felt about accessing GP services compared to the rest of the population.
The Health Foundation and Ipsos MORI survey was carried out between 17 and 29 July to assess public attitudes on health and social care following coronavirus.
In April, CCGs across the country launched public campaigns encouraging people to seek medical attention for early signs of serious illnesses, including cancer, following a significant reduction in the numbers presenting, likely due to coronavirus fears.
Overall, nine in 10 people reported feeling comfortable about accessing their local GP services, found the survey, while 77% felt the same about using a hospital.
In a similar poll from May, just 78% of people said they felt confident accessing their GP and only 52% said the same about using a local hospital, 11% and 25% fewer, respectively, compared to the latest figures.
Of those who said they felt uncomfortable accessing services, most put it down to concerns about being exposed to coronavirus (53% in relation to GP services and 72% for hospitals). Some also felt concerned they might not be able to get an appointment (11% for GP services and 1% for hospitals), while others said they did not want to put additional pressures on healthcare providers (3% for GP services and 6% for hospitals).
Of those who had accessed health services during the pandemic, 61% did so via their GP practice and 24% through their local hospital, according to the survey.
The majority of people in the survey said they thought that GP practice, hospital and ambulance services were ‘managing well’ (73%, 77% and 67%, respectively), while only 52% said the same about NHS 111 services and 39% about care homes.
People from BAME backgrounds were less likely to think hospitals were doing well, and older people were more likely to think care homes were managing fine.
‘NHS must reassure people’
The survey findings may have lessons for health services in the case of a coronavirus second wave, as well as in resolving the backlog of care currently being experienced in secondary care.
Tim Gardner, Health Foundation senior policy fellow, said: ‘The fact that people with a disability and those from BAME backgrounds are more likely to feel uncomfortable about using their local hospital, for example, is of particular concern. If this unease deters people from seeking care for serious health conditions, the existing inequalities already laid bare by Covid-19 could be exacerbated further.’
He added: ‘If people are unwell and need treatment, it is important they feel confident enough and receive the right support to access local health care services. Otherwise we risk people with potentially serious conditions going without necessary treatment for fear of being exposed to Covid-19.
‘As the NHS slowly returns hospital services to near-normal levels of activity, it is imperative that the Government and the NHS do their utmost to reassure and support the groups hardest hit by Covid-19 to access essential treatment and care.’
This follows multiple findings that Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on the BAME community.