The coronavirus pandemic has caused great uncertainty for all of us, touching almost every aspect of our daily lives. However, for those with pre-existing medical conditions and their families, it has been a particularly worrying few months.
According to UK government guidance, seeking medical help for yourself or providing care for others is one of four reasons people can leave their homes. However, reports in recent weeks have shown that people are avoiding seeking medical care when they really need it for fear of putting extra pressure on the NHS or catching the virus in a clinical environment.
Figures show that A&E visits for April 2020 are down by nearly 50%i compared to the previous year, and there are fears that people suffering from heart attacks or strokes may be putting off going to hospital. Those with chronic conditions are also missing essential appointments. Cancer experts have estimated that nearly 18,000 people with cancer in England could die as a result of suspended treatments or patients not seeking medical care.ii Meanwhile, the Chief Executive of charity Suicide Crisis has warned that, while the pandemic has awakened a sense of trying to “pull together in the national interest”, some people may feel they are “’letting the side down’ if they admit they are struggling and need help”.iii
Earlier this week, Matt Hancock announced the resumption of certain NHS services that had been suspended due to coronavirus, with the initial focus being on the most urgent services, such as cancer and mental health.iv The NHS is also set to launch a major public health campaign next week to encourage people to seek urgent care and treatment.v However, it will certainly take time before patients feel safe and comfortable visiting hospitals or other clinical centres.
Communications professionals throughout the healthcare industry have an important role to play in encouraging patients to seek the treatment they need. We are experiencing the biggest health emergency of our time and therefore news and public health announcements around coronavirus have rightly taken centre stage over the last few weeks and months. However, to minimise what experts are referring to as a ‘parallel epidemic’vi , it is important that we continue to raise awareness of other conditions and update patients on how they can access medical advice, whether that be speaking to their clinician face-to-face or remotely. Otherwise, we risk jeopardising the progress we have made in other areas, such as increasing survival rates for serious diseases through early diagnosis or expanding access to mental health services.
[i] Help us help you: NHS urges public to get care when they need it. NHS England. Available at: https://www.england.nhs.uk/2020/04/help-us-help-you-nhs-urges-public-to-get-care-when-they-need-it/ [Last accessed: April 2020]
[ii] Coronavirus crisis could lead to 18,000 more cancer deaths, experts warn. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/29/extra-18000-cancer-patients-in-england-could-die-in-next-year-study [Last accessed: April 2020]
[iii] Warlike talk of Covid-19 battle could shame people into avoiding NHS, charity warns. The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/04/27/warlike-talk-covid-19-battle-could-shame-people-avoiding-nhs/ [Last accessed: April 2020
[iv] ‘Restoration’ of non-covid NHS services gets under way. Health Service Journal. Available at: https://www.hsj.co.uk/commissioning/restoration-of-non-covid-nhs-services-gets-under-way/7027506.article [Last accessed: April 2020]
[v] Help us help you: NHS urges public to get care when they need it. NHS England. Available at: https://www.england.nhs.uk/2020/04/help-us-help-you-nhs-urges-public-to-get-care-when-they-need-it/ [Last accessed: April 2020]
[vi] Coronavirus: What is the hidden health cost? BBA. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-52461034 [Last accessed: April 2020]