The health impact of the pandemic: NHS hospital treatments for long-term health conditions fall by over 60% in April

New data from Understanding Society shows the impact of the coronavirus on NHS treatment for people with long-term health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The new figures come from the Understanding Society COVID-19 survey. The data comes from interviews between 24 and 30 April with 17,450 Study participants. Of them, 3,414 respondents aged 16 and over from across the UK report one or more long-term health conditions and were asked about access to NHS services.  

The data shows that during April 2020, 63% of people with long-term health conditions, such as cancer or cardiovascular disease,  who needed NHS treatment did not receive it because the NHS stopped their treatment.  10% of patients cancelled appointments themselves. 

Out-patient hospital appointments for long-term health conditions were also affected, with 42% of respondents having appointments cancelled during April and an additional 7% of appointments being cancelled by patients themselves. Just 6% of people with long-term health conditions were provided with an alternative treatment.  

The highest level of continued treatment was for those with cancer, but only 40% received treatment in this period. 56% of cancer patients had their treatment cancelled or postponed by the NHS and 4% postponed treatment themselves. For other health conditions, the NHS cancelled treatment for over two-thirds of people who were expecting it in this period; around 5% of people cancelled treatment themselves across the different health conditions.
64% of people suffering from long-term respiratory conditions had their planned treatment cancelled and people with diabetes were also hard hit, with the cancellation of 70% of treatments. 

In contrast to NHS hospital appointments, community-based care was more available to people managing their long-term health:

  • 98% of those who needed prescription medications were still able to obtain them
  • 73% who needed treatment via a GP still received the services they required
  • 65% were able to see a pharmacist 

Professor Michaela Benzeval, who led the development of the health questions in the survey, said, “Our data are 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 condition 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. We hope this long-term perspective will allow researchers to better understand the impact of the coronavirus situation on the UK population” 

Read the briefing note on the impact of COVID-19 on health and caring here.

This data was feature in The Guardian, you can read their coverage here.