[The NIHR BioResource contributes to a major national study of the long-term impacts of COVID-19, through the UK Longitudinal Linkage Collaboration.]
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed large pressures on the NHS. Initially faced with an uncertain future, the NHS responded by cancelling all non-emergency care to make space to treat patients with COVID-19. While the NHS has demonstrated greater resilience during subsequent waves, there has still been considerable ongoing disruption to the delivery of health care. Cancer screening programmes have been postponed, non-essential surgeries delayed, and GPs have consulted with patients online or via telephone. Some people avoided seeing their GP or visiting a hospital for fear of catching COVID-19 or not wanting to take up resources during a pandemic.
It is plausible that this disruption may have negatively impacted people’s health. Where screening was delayed, diseases may have not been diagnosed as early as normal, meaning that when people started treatment they were sicker and treatment may be less successful. Delayed care might mean that treatable conditions worsen, impacting people’s quality of life. Waiting lists have grown, meaning that people wanting to access new care now face longer waits than previously. While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, the largest health impacts have been experienced among the most disadvantaged communities and it is likely that the disruption of health care will also have had a greater impact on these communities.
This project will study the impacts of health care disruption in the UK. We will examine the experiences of those individuals affected by disruption, including whether it has impacted their health and if these impacts have had larger impacts on poorer people. We expect the project will be important for responding to the impacts of COVID-19 healthcare disruption, and help benefit patients and service planners. We will share the findings with policy makers, NHS care managers, and politicians to help inform how the UK responds to COVID-19 healthcare disruption for years to come (e.g., which services to invest in or prioritise, which types of people need additional help) and also to improve NHS resilience for the future.
Having access to the linked data through this application is necessary to understand the experiences of patients. We do not know exactly how people used healthcare services during the pandemic in the surveys with the current data. While people in the surveys are asked their opinion over if they experienced some disruption, how this relates to actual use of healthcare is unclear. The linked data will allow us to examine the types of healthcare people actually used, their experiences of use, and any health conditions diagnoses during the pandemic. Only through having access to all of this information can we begin to track how healthcare disruption translates to longer term health impacts. This is not currently possible through other data sources that we have access to. We are not aware of another study doing this research, meaning our findings will be valuable.