The Catastrophic Cost of Coronavirus' Collateral
Yes, it’s time for more Covid talk. What a shocker. As too many of us are painfully aware, the Covid-19 pandemic is now totaling almost two months. With the date of freedom unknown, failures surrounding testing accessibility and now suspected figure manipulation, it is quite easy to relate to the tide of growing impatience. There is seemingly a lack of light at the end of this virus-contaminated tunnel. A devastating loss of over 30,000 has ravaged the country. Curbing Covid is clearly the government priority, with little justification needed. Covid woes temporarily aside, British spirit is remaining positive. ‘We will meet again’, but in what context? What about those the virus is leaving behind? The impact of illnesses unrelated to Covid-19 could arguably be more catastrophic than the initial death toll from the virus itself. While this brings more negativity to the table, we simply cannot forget about the collateral damage that will be left in Covid’s wake.
NHS England figures have reported a 29% drop in numbers of people attending A&E departments during the month of March. Meanwhile calls to the NHS helpline ‘111’ have soared to nearly 3 million, twice as many as in March 2019. NHS staff are becoming increasingly concerned about those not reporting to hospitals, after serious conditions such as heart attacks and strokes. Yet, with such mixed messages by the government, should we be surprised that this is the case? The British public have valiantly responded to the government’s call for ‘stay home, save lives’, but perhaps at a dangerous price. The dominance of the ‘stay home’ message has taken over public conversation and media outlets. Rising fears of contamination, risk of spreading the virus to loved ones and worries over burdening the health system, are just some of the reasons preventing GP and hospital visits. The government has now been quick to encourage those in need to now receive vital hospital care, but this has received little attention in comparison to the ‘stay home’ mantra, with April statistics still reflecting a slow increase in hospital visits. Mixed messages are hard impressions to shake. The government's slogan to fight the virus may well lead to eventual victory against Covid-19 but it may be their undoing in treating other mental and physical ailments affecting Britain.
Coronavirus versus cancer; the dreaded ‘C’ word now has a double meaning and is the reality many now could face. Research from UCL released this April has predicted 18,000 additional cancer patients could die within the next year, due to delayed treatments. This is a rise of 20% on the number of cancer deaths reported annually. Overall, cancer referrals have dropped by approximately 70%. For many afflicted by cancer, time is truly of the essence. The NHS has urged people suffering with suspected cancer symptoms to contact their GP in an attempt to combat this issue, supporting measures such as online testing and consultations. The government has also provided 21 ‘Covid free’ cancer hubs across England and Scotland to carry out urgent consultations and surgeries. However, where was the promotion of these measures when those suffering needed it most? How many more cancer hubs can we expect? ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’ has caused mass confusion and worry for cancer patients who cannot afford to wait for diagnosis or treatment. The aftermath of the coronavirus risks greater strain on the NHS when hospitals are deemed ‘safe’ to the public.
It is not only the nation’s physical health that may lie in the balance. We can now certainly all relate to feelings of boredom, fear and sheer stress during this pandemic. Have we truly reflected on the status of our mental health during this turbulent period? A combination of unemployment, fear of losing loved ones and the strains of isolation have created a perfect storm to disrupt the nation’s mental longevity. NHS Mental Health referrals have dropped by 40%, alongside an increased spike in suicide rates. Graduates are facing increasing anxiety over job prospects in the upcoming years and many businesses will be sadly lost to the Covid-19 tidal wave. The SARS outbreak in 2003 provides evidence of increased rates of depression and post-traumatic stress; a major alarm bell for post-corona life. Charities such as MIND, the Samaritans and Save the Children have increased efforts to support the nation in the upcoming mental health crisis, but such heroism may not be enough to cope with what is coming. Mental health services have fought to receive significant status in government priorities and still have a long way to go. In 2019, the mental health of children and young people accounted for less than 1% of all NHS spending. Services were yet to receive the staggered influx of the 20 billion cash boot promised by 2023. Simply put, a series of real-term spending cuts have left government mental health services unable to cope with the previous Covid-19 demand. Where does that leave us now?
The necessity of staying home has disrupted the lives of us all. This is not an attempt to detract significance from necessary government efforts to curb Covid or to undermine the tragic loss the virus has brought. But whilst it is critical to fight the pandemic, this does not excuse the lack of government support and attention to non-virus-related illnesses. A balance has to be found. While we may be turning the tide on the Covid-19 outbreak, we are at risk of losing the war in ensuring Britain’s future mental and physical wellbeing.