What does COVID-19 mean for the UK health and social care system?

As the numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the UK, Dr Lindsay Forbes, Senior Clinical Research Fellow (Public Health) at Kent’s Centre for Health Services Studies, has commented on how this could impact the UK health and social care system. She said:

‘The key issues with COVID-19 seem to be that it is highly infectious – more so than seasonal flu – and we have limited natural immunity with no vaccine yet. Many people could get it – if so, there may be major disruption to our health and social care system, which is already bogged down with the usual winter problems: high levels of emergency medical admissions and seasonal flu. Many health and social care workers will get COVID-19 too and will have to isolate themselves.

‘In the UK we have extensive plans for dealing with major outbreaks of infectious disease. These were found to be robust during the swine flu epidemic, which caused about 26,000 additional hospital admissions. The country is covered by a network of Local Health Resilience Partnerships – collaborations of local government and health organisations that set out emergency preparedness plans. Yet, the health and social care system is in a more vulnerable state than in 2009/10, weakened by a long-term funding deficit, difficulties in recruitment and low morale.

We need to be prepared for disruption: delays to non-urgent investigations or operations and longer waiting times for appointments with GPs and hospitals, and maybe effects on urgent care for other conditions. There are a lot of uncertainties – not least about how long the COVID-19 outbreak will last. Seasonal flu fizzles out each year as the weather gets warmer – whether COVID-19 will do the same remains to be seen.’

Dr Lindsay Forbes is Senior Clinical Research Fellow (Public Health) at the University of Kent’s Centre for Health Services Studies. She is an academic public health physician with special interests in the epidemiology of long term conditions and the design and evaluation of services to meet the needs of the growing population who have these. Her main focus is currently the organisation of general practice. Dr Forbes joined the Centre for Health Services Studies in January 2016 from King’s College London and Queen Mary, University of London.

The University’s Press Office provides the media with expert comments in response to topical news events. Colleagues who would like to learn more about how to contribute their expertise or how the service works should contact the Press Office on 3985 or pressoffice@kent.ac.uk

Leave a Reply