The full impact of COVID-19 is still too early to assess, but we can definitely see how it’s had an effect on the healthcare system so far. Take a look..

Whether COVID-19 has caused you to experience a delayed cancer diagnosis, separated you and your partner during the birth of your child, or anything in between, it’s been tough on us all. The question is, how exactly has this impacted our NHS and the treatment of its patients?

In this article, we’ll be answering just that by taking you through some of the main sectors of the medical world and how they’ve been impacted. Take a look…

The Impact of COVID on the Birthing World

Firstly, let’s talk about the ways in which giving birth has changed for pregnant people throughout the pandemic. With there being fewer maternity staff available and the risk of infection high in hospitals, the whole order of things had to adapt.

Pre-Birth

During the start of it all, people who were pregnant were instructed to attend midwifery sessions and anti-natal classes virtually. This meant that, instead of the usual monthly check-ups advised by the Office on Women’s Health at the Department of Health & Human Services, these haven’t been occurring. There are concerns that this is jeopardising the health of mother and baby, as well as the mental health of those involved.

For many expecting mothers, this has made what is already a daunting time even more frightening. Without that personal touch, especially for single mothers, things have no doubt been scary.

During Birth

Even now, nearly a year on from the start of it all, the same situation stands. Now, when it comes to the big day of giving birth, parents are being told that it is safer to do so at home. As long as your local midwifery unit provides this service, and there’s availability for an ambulance on standby if complications crop up, this is possible.

This is a very different experience for many expectant mothers who would normally rely on heading to the hospital. Of course, this option is still available, but it’s not advised.

Instead, mothers will be sent to a midwifery-led unit or birth centre if they’d rather give birth in an institution. If any complications arise, the mother may be transferred to an obstetric unit to better deal with the situation.

In order to keep everyone safe throughout, birthing partners are generally exempt from post-birth check-ups. But, as long as they aren’t experiencing COVID symptoms, they are permitted to attend the birth. Other visitors are not welcome.

How COVID Has Negatively Affected BAME People

COVID-19 has also demonstrated to us the inherent inequalities within our healthcare system. Evidence shows that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals have been more affected by the outbreak than white citizens. This could be the case for a myriad of reasons, including:

  • Communication issues, making it more difficult to properly deal with patients.
  • Cultural differences which can’t always be met effectively for proper treatment.
  • Many BAME individuals live in low income areas, meaning they’re more likely to live in crowded homes where the virus can spread easier.
  • There’s also a greater number of BAME people living in urban areas, where infection spreads fast.
  • Low socio-economic living means accessibility to GP care is restricted; one might not be able to afford public transport to the nearest doctors.
  • They may also live too far from the GP to fit this into their daily schedule.
  • BAME people are more likely to work in industries that require close contact with other people, again leaving them more at risk.

Clearly, COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting those who aren’t white, highlighting the disparities within our systems that need addressing.

Mental Health vs. COVID-19

Due to the dramatic alterations in our lifestyles, more people are experiencing mental health problems than ever before. What’s more, those with pre-existing mental health conditions have been worsening too. This has occurred due to a number of reasons brought on by the pandemic, including:

  • Loss of jobs
  • Loneliness
  • Lack of quality of life
  • Working in front-line services
  • Financial troubles
  • Loss of homes
  • Lack of coping mechanisms, like the gym
  • Domestic abuse cases rising

Even before COVID-19, mental health services were strained. Now, with the greater influx of people requiring help, and the pressures on the NHS at the moment, people are simply not getting the care they need.

What’s more, even where they are getting this care, all of it is on a virtual level. Many sufferers have reported the problems they’ve faced with this new method of management. They feel it is impersonal and is exacerbating their pre-existing conditions with the stress of it all.

Add to this the fact that people might be staying away from seeking help due to their worries of catching COVID or over-stressing doctors, who knows what impact this will have in future. It’s thought that the long-term effects of these issues aren’t fully known, but could be devastating to those struggling. They may not seek help until they reach breaking point, exacerbating the problem ten-fold.

The Impact of Coronavirus on Non-COVID Patients

With the huge influx of patients due to the virus, those with pre-existing conditions or potential conditions are being affected. Overall, a survey showed that 20 percent of those with pre-existing conditions were not getting potentially life-saving treatment. This was due to:

  • Postponements
  • Lack of staff
  • Lack of hospital beds
  • Lack of resources
  • Personal worries about contracting the virus
  • Not being able to get an appointment

Not only this, but those who think they may be ill aren’t getting the diagnoses they need either. This could be due to the ineffectiveness of virtual GP calls, or people avoiding the GP for reasons listed previously.

Whatever it may be, the untold impact of patients experiencing a delayed diagnosis could be devastating. Some research has indicated that the death rates of those with cancer who aren’t getting the diagnosis and treatment they require could rise. For example, the mortality rate of those with breast cancer is predicted to rise by between 7.9 and 9.6 percent.

This is just one type of illness, and a small sub-section of this disease. So, imagine the consequences of undiagnosed and late-diagnosed illnesses across the board. The back-up could be devastating, and we may still feel it for years to come.

The COVID Impact on NHS Staff

Finally, the untold impact of COVID-19 on the wellbeing of NHS staff is still not completely clear. Of course, NHS staff were already at a shortage pre-COVID, and this has been truly exacerbated throughout the pandemic. That said, the true effects of these added stresses and pressures brought on by the coronavirus are still unclear.

We can only assume that the general impact will be a mental one. Doctors, nurses and care staff are being inundated with more stress than ever before, potentially leading to an upturn in unhappy staff. This may even cause a greater shortage, with staff choosing to leave their posts to prioritise their own health.

What’s the Future of Our Healthcare System Post-COVID?

As you can see, COVID-19 has had a negative impact on almost every sector in the health world.

We can’t deny that there could be positives. For example, public awareness of the need to improve social care services could help to make real change. Also, the rising awareness of the inherent inequalities in the system should bring about real change.

That said, the real long-term impacts are still unclear. We can only assume that the delayed diagnoses of serious illnesses and back-up of patients will be devastating. Only time will tell.