HIDDEN IMPACT OF PANDEMIC ON THE NATION’S HEALTH
Appointments at the doctor’s down by 31million 4,500 needless cancer deaths this year alone Disruption of health care to be felt for 10 years
The full extent of the impact of the pandemic on non-Covid care has been laid bare in a major report released last night.
experts warned that the pandemic has undone years of progress in the NhS and threatens a ‘decade of health disruption’.
Recovering from the setback and developing ‘world-leading’ care for future generations is expected to cost an extra £12billion a year, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) calculated.
And a surge in deaths and disabilities resulting from untreated cancer, heart disease and mental illness is anticipated, the report warned.
The IPPR said the pandemic has put a ‘severe’ strain on the NhS and had a devastating impact on patients.
There have been 31million fewer GP appointments than usual since the pandemic began – and those with long-term conditions have been hit the hardest, the State of health and Care report claimed.
An additional 4,500 avoidable cancer deaths are expected this year alone because of disruptions to screening, diagnostic tests and treatments.
And an extra 12,000 avoidable heart attacks and strokes are expected over the next five years, the report added.
This is on top of the 5,600 excess cardiovascular deaths last year, the majority of which were ‘ attributable to disruption caused by the pandemic’.
The proportion of cancers diagnosed while still highly curable has dropped from 44 to 41 per cent, undoing eight years of progress on colorectal cancer survival rates, six years for breast cancer and two years for lung cancer.
Checks on patients with severe mental illnesses have fallen below a third of their target levels and 235,000 fewer patients were referred for psychological therapies.
Meanwhile, eating disorder referrals for children have doubled and waiting lists have reached a fiveyear high, the review found.
hospitals cancelled non-urgent operations during the peak of the pandemic to focus on Covid patients and GPs encouraged people to switch from in-person to telephone consultations. Ministers also urged people to ‘stay at home’
‘Waiting lists have ballooned’
to protect the NhS and many were too terrified to visit A&e in case they caught they virus.
All are thought to have contributed to delays, deaths and a rise in pent-up demand, with waiting lists at a record high of 4.5million – but expected to hit 10million.
Job insecurity, financial worries and a lack of social contact with friends and family during lockdown has also taken its toll on the nation’s mental health.
The report said: ‘Waiting lists have ballooned, diagnoses missed and treatments have been cancelled – and the full impacts of the second wave are yet to play out.
‘The lack of spare capacity meant coping with Covid-19 has been at the expense of other health priorities. Recovering and addressing the care backlog are urgent.’
The IPPR found the NhS will need an extra £2.2billion a year for the next five years to deal with the backlog and manage the surge in demand for mental health services.
But it has urged ministers to go further than just restoring the NhS to its ‘already dangerously overstretched pre-pandemic levels’. It has set out a blueprint for ambitious reform of health and social care in england that would make the country ‘world-leading’.
It includes making social care free at the point of need, improved NhS buildings, a larger highlyskilled workforce and a 5 per cent pay rise for staff. The IPPR also wants internet access to be provided as a ‘basic public service’ so patients can access online services.
The report said a further £10.1billion of investment would be needed annually, on top of the £2.2billion catch-up funding, to achieve this. It described the £12.3billion annual investment as a ‘booster shot’.
Lead author Dr Parth Patel said: ‘The Government wants to “build back better” in health and care. This landmark report provides a costed and comprehensive plan on how to do that.’ And Chris Thomas of the IPPR said: ‘ We are on the very precipice of a whole decade of severe health disruption. Now is no time to be timid.’
Staff burnout and a surge in mental illness are the most worrying post-pandemic challenges, an IPPR poll of 172 NhS and local government leaders found.
One Cancer Voice, a coalition of 47 British cancer charities, raised fears that the UK’s cancer death rate could rise for the first time in decades as 44,000 fewer patients started treatment last year.
WHILE all eyes have been on fighting Covid, a parallel health crisis has been simmering below the surface that may yet cause more lasting damage than the pandemic itself.
Figures from the Institute of Public Policy Research today are terrifying. A staggering 31million fewer GP appointments in the past year. An additional 4,500 cancer deaths expected, 235,000 fewer mental health referrals, 30,000 more care home deaths and 12,000 avoidable heart attacks.
And this is without the countless strokes, cardiac arrests and other acute episodes that proved fatal because people couldn’t or wouldn’t go to hospital.
These appalling health outcomes are the collateral damage of lockdown and the bunker atmosphere it has created.
Patients have become so wary of seeking treatment, either because they don’t want to be a burden or are genuinely afraid of catching the virus, that they would rather suffer at home. The NHS has become a virtual fortress against non-Covid patients.
This pernicious situation will be turned around only when society fully reopens and confidence is restored. The vaccination programme has led to a surge of hope, yet the prison gates remain firmly locked.
Given the spectacular success of the rollout, it’s hugely disappointing that the Prime Minister stubbornly refuses to accelerate the lifting of restrictions.
He should study these IPPR figures, see the damage his intransigence is causing, and think again.