Throughout lockdown, we were told ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ in an attempt to control the spread of Coronavirus, and whilst staying home may have protected us from contracting Covid-19, it meant that many other serious illnesses and health conditions went undetected and untreated.
The pandemic took over our lives; physically with a national lockdown as well as mentally; it occupied the headspace of the nation who were bombarded with media coverage of Covid-19 and little else. The national statistics for GP and sexual health appointments plummeted, partly due to suspended services for an already overstretched NHS but partly due to the prioritisation of Covid-19 above all else. As fear spread about this unknown threat, it became easy to forget other illnesses still existed and that a routine sore throat didn’t mean an instant coronavirus diagnosis.
A study by the British Medical Journal conducted across Greater Manchester reported that by May 2020, diagnosis rates across all types of cancer had dropped 44% and continue to fall, whilst less than half the number of cases of Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and mental health conditions have been reported compared to predicted figures. This trend is mirrored across the country due to both an overstretched NHS struggling to navigate virtual consultations and social distancing restrictions, and the reluctance of the public to book GP appointments during such unprecedented times.
Whilst Covid-19 is undoubtedly a serious threat, it’s important to remember to maintain our general wellbeing and continue to see the GP for all the same pre-pandemic concerns we once had.
For young people and students across the country in particular, the return to University may be another factor in neglecting to keep our physical and mental health in check. Lack of access due to not being registered at their University is a common problem for students who often forget to register or prefer to stay registered at home, meaning that students rarely visit healthcare professionals except in medical emergencies.
As a group who may be finding it particularly hard to adjust to the ‘new normal’, due to restrictions drastically affecting their education and social lives, it is crucial that this trend does not continue and that students and young people keep their mental and physical health in check. In particular sexual health services took a severe hit during lockdown as emergency care was prioritised and by April over 54% of sexual health services had temporarily closed. However almost all services have now resumed, be it virtually or at a limited capacity yet general usage and appointment rates remain low, due to the new corona centric attitude of society leaving many with a fear of ‘wasting doctor’s time’ for other non-Covid related medical queries and conditions. Problems including undetected sexually transmitted diseases as well as limited access to contraceptives create the perfect storm to cause potentially more serious problems in the future that could have been prevented had individuals continued to use the services properly.
As we adjust to the new normal until such a time as the virus is controlled or eradicated it is important to take responsibility for our own personal health and continue to use the NHS services available when necessary to ensure any possible problems are caught as early as possible. Despite our best efforts to protect the NHS, not using their services at this time could be causing more harm than good in the long run.
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