Connect with us


‘Two thirds’ of patients denied care they needed at height of pandemic

Report reveals scale of treatment inaccessibility and the challenge ahead for healthcare innovators.

Avatar photo



Digital health has been hailed as the great changemaker in terms of giving people remote access to healthcare professionals during the pandemic.

But new figures on the impact of COVID-19 on treatment access show just how much further technology could go in ensuring clinician/patient interaction; and in supporting healthcare equality.

Data published today shows that just a third of people in the UK managed to access the hospital care they needed at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic. While lessons have been learned since then and telehealth measures stepped up, the figures show the scale of the challenge in maintaining services when physical consultations are not possible.

The researchers found that, despite high levels of unmet need, there was equal access to NHS hospital care for people at different levels of income. And the NHS principle of equal treatment for equal need was upheld.

However, people on higher incomes had better access to GP consultations, prescriptions and medical helplines at the peak of the first wave. Perhaps technology could help to close this gap and address healthcare inequality via more widely available and user friendly digital platforms.

Dr Apostolos Davillas, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “A founding principle and duty of the NHS is to ensure equal access for equal need irrespective of age, location or ability to pay.

“When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the UK reallocated resources within the health and social care systems to handle coronavirus cases. NHS trusts redesigned their services to release capacity for Covid-19 patients by discharging thousands to free up beds and postponing planned treatments.

“This affected their ability to meet health care need due to other health conditions, illnesses or health emergencies.

“We wanted to find out whether people in the UK were able to use the healthcare services they needed during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, through lockdown and beyond.”

The researchers studied data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), which launched a Covid-19 survey to examine the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The study included a sample of 6,598 participants who reported that they had a health care need, and the researchers estimated their healthcare use as the pandemic unfolded between April and July 2020 – to work out the ‘unmet need’ for healthcare. The study also looked at whether people’s long-run income affected access to healthcare.

They found that unmet need was highest for both inpatient and outpatient hospital care shortly after the introduction of the first lockdown on March 23.

Levels of unmet need were lower for non-emergency medical helplines and GP consultations, while much lower levels of unmet need were evident for community pharmacist advice, over the counter medications and use of prescription medicines.

Dr Davillas said: “Our study shows that there was a more pronounced impact on secondary care versus primary care services during the peak of the first wave.

“For example, in late March and April only 33 per cent of those who needed inpatient care managed to use those services, however, 98 per cent of respondents reported that they got their prescription medicines.

“Unmet need became less evident from May through to July 2020. For example, outpatient consultations increased from 47 per cent in April to 63 percent in June, following the easing of lockdown. About 70 per cent of those who needed outpatient care had access to it in July, after the complete easing of the first lockdown on July 4.

“When it comes to the relationship between people’s use of healthcare and their income, we found that despite high levels of unmet need, people of all incomes had equal access to the hospital care that was provided. But we found that more well-off people had better access to GP consultations, prescriptions and medical helplines at the peak of the first wave.

“In a publicly funded health care system, pro-rich inequity in health care use may be because people on lower low-incomes are heavily time-constrained, due to harsher employment and living arrangements, and may be less able to seek the health care they need. But we found that this inequality was reduced as the pandemic progressed.

“However, we found persistent pro-rich inequities for services that may be related to people’s ability to pay, such as over the counter medications and advice from community pharmacists,” he added.

‘Unmet health care need and income-related horizontal equity in use of health care during the COVID-19 pandemic’ is published in Health Economics.

The paper is co-authored by Dr Apostolos Davillas (UEA) and Prof Andrew M. Jones (University of York).

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Trending stories