A second wave of crisis in the NHS after the COVID-19 pandemic
In this study, we will estimate specifically the indirect effects of COVID-19 on “day-to-day” healthcare service utilisation. Using a unique dataset that links primary care data (QResearch database), secondary care data (Hospital Episode Statistics database) and cancer registry data and mortality data, we will investigate how the pandemic has disrupted the utilisation of healthcare services for routine and emergency visits, and the consequences of this disruption for patients.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, NHS patients suffering from other conditions face disruption in their treatment. Hospitals have delayed routine operations for planned care and have issued guidance to ensure patients with cancer do not face higher risks. Furthermore, access to primary care is limited and visits to A&E have halved since the pandemic started, so important medical attention may not be sought.
It is likely that the NHS could face a second crisis as the consequences of these restrictions unravel. Some patients could require emergency care as their conditions worsen due to the lack of treatment, while hospitalisation for chronic conditions may also increase as people suffer the consequences of social isolation policies.
The COVID-19 pandemic is having significant effects on health across the world. However, early evidence suggests there are large variations between communities with different demographic factors. For example, 34.5% of the 5578 critical patients registered in the UK on March 10th were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups (BAME) (ICNARC 2020).
These issues suggest that the follow-on consequences of the COVID-19 restrictions will be felt unevenly across communities, with areas of higher deprivation and more BAME residents likely to bear the heavier burden. It is important to understand heterogeneity across regions so that during the next stage of this health crisis, vulnerable communities can be provided with appropriate resources to ensure that health inequalities do not get even wider.