Five ways the pandemic has affected routine medical care
24 June 2022
COVID-19 General Research methods & EBM
Director of the Evidence-Based Health Care DPhil programme, Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, shares five ways that the pandemic has affected routine medical care - also published in The Conversation.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, COVID has infected at least a third of the UK population and is estimated to have factored in the deaths of almost 200,000 people in the UK. But critically, COVID has also had a devastating impact on our healthcare systems. While this was expected, new evidence is beginning to reveal the scope of the issue – in particular the effects for people living with long-term health conditions.
Here, Jamie Hartmann-Boyce shares five ways the pandemic has affected access to routine medical care.
1. HEART DISEASE
A 2022 review looked at evidence on the impact of the pandemic on heart disease and care, covering 158 studies across 49 countries.
Across all types of heart disease and all countries studied, there were fewer hospitalisations, treatments and healthcare appointments than before the pandemic. This might seem like a good thing, but actually it means that people delayed seeking medical attention when suffering from heart conditions. Indeed, this review found that the people who made it to hospital were more unwell than patients hospitalised with heart conditions before the pandemic.
The impact was the most severe in low and middle-income countries, where deaths from heart disease in hospital increased.
Diabetes care and services have been disrupted throughout the pandemic, from new diagnoses to critical screening and treatment programmes. A study published in May 2022 reveals that in England, death rates (excluding deaths caused by COVID) were higher among people with diabetes in 2021 compared with previous years. A recent analysis has linked this to disruptions in routine care caused by the pandemic.
People from the most deprived groups have had poorer outcomes compared with those from more advantaged groups. This plays out globally, too – people with access to sophisticated diabetes technology such as continuous blood glucose monitors appear to have had relatively stable blood sugar levels during the pandemic. But others have experienced serious declines in health and wellbeing, due in part to issues accessing insulin.