Coronavirus: First wave caused ‘substantial harm and distress’ to vulnerable people, charities warn ahead of second spike

Samuel Osborne
·4-min read
More than 14,000 adults and nearly 2,000 young people found 60 per cent of adults and 68 per cent of young people felt their mental health had got worse during the height of lockdown (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
More than 14,000 adults and nearly 2,000 young people found 60 per cent of adults and 68 per cent of young people felt their mental health had got worse during the height of lockdown (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The first coronavirus lockdown caused “substantial harm and distress” to vulnerable people, charities have warned, as they urged the government to avoid shutting down health and care services if Covid-19 infections continue to rise.

National Voices, a coalition of 160 health and care charities in England, said lessons needed to be learned about how to support people with long-term conditions or who are vulnerable as the pandemic continues.

It comes amid preparations for a potential upsurge in the number of people needing hospital treatment for Covid-19 over the winter, with some regions separating NHS hospitals into those that will treat coronavirus patients and those that will attempt to remain Covid-free.

The plan is intended to keep non-Covid services running as well as trying to clear the backlog of delays to treatment from the first wave of the virus.

A survey published by National Voices found Covid-19 most impacted people’s wellbeing, access to medication, ability to get food and their access to healthcare.

The report, titled What We Know Now, included survey responses from more than 66,000 people conducted from 11 different charities, including the MS Society, British Heart Foundation, and Diabes UK between March and July 2020.

A survey for mental health charity Mind of more than 14,000 adults and nearly 2,000 young people found 60 per cent of adults and 68 per cent of young people felt their mental health had got worse during the height of lockdown.

Another found 32 per cent of more than 2,000 people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) had their healthcare appointments cancelled or delayed during the first wave.

Meanwhile, a separate survey of more than 2,000 people with Parkinson’s disease found 34 per cent had their physiotherapy appointments cancelled.

A survey of people with heart and circulatory diseases found half of those shielding said getting healthcare treatment had become harder.

Surveys from carers of people with long-term conditions found 55 per cent felt “overwhelmed” and worried they would “burnout”, while over a third said they were providing more care as a result of local services running reduced services or closing during the pandemic.

Kelvin, 67, from Earby in Lancashire, who cares for his wife Sharon, 60, who lives with secondary progressive MS, said: "Our GP surgery has locked its doors and is only available by phone.

"All of the other support has stopped with no start date... literally overnight we were cast adrift."

He said the "much-needed and hard fought for support" disappeared when the pandemic came along, adding: "Our routine is reduced to the three hours it takes Sharon to have breakfast and for me to get her showered and dressed in the morning. With rest breaks often it can be midday before she is downstairs.

"Fortunately we have a huge pile of books I had purchased from a closing down sale for her to read.

"Usually the rest of the day is spent in slow motion; a small lunch followed by the evening meal which I cook and prepare, a bit of TV and bed - this is akin to the film Groundhog Day.

"We need guidance and the return of a fully-functioning NHS and the support agencies, particularly during the confusing and prolonged lockdown restrictions. We need to get our lives back on track as we cannot go on like this."

Phillip Anderson, head of policy at the MS Society, said: "This research is not about criticising previous decisions with the benefit of hindsight - it is about making sure we learn lessons for the immediate future.

"Our report is a stark reminder that people with long-term health conditions like MS were hard hit by the disruptions during the first wave of the pandemic.

"By working together as patient organisations, National Voices have amassed insight into the experiences of tens of thousands of people with health and care needs.

"We urge the government to keep them at the centre of future planning and responses to the pandemic.

"They must do everything possible to avoid shutting down the health and care services that vulnerable people rely on if we are to avoid further significant harm to mental and physical health."

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