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Half of British public ‘scared’ of going to hospital due to COVID-19 risk and time-wasting

·      Report into impact of COVID-19 also finds patients now prefer phone calls to face-to-face for non-urgent appointments 

·      Reopening cancer services and investing in PPE are public’s top priorities to get health services moving

·      Reluctance to use NHS services could pose a major challenge to ‘restarting’ critical services 


Around half of the British public are reluctant to go to hospital due to fears of catching COVID-19 and being a burden on the NHS, despite doctors’ reassurances, a new report reveals. 


Due to the risk of catching COVID-19, 45% of respondents reported they were scared to visit A&E, 41% were scared to go to a hospital specialist appointment and 45% feared catching the virus if they went to the dentist. By comparison, only 27% feared a trip to the pharmacist for this reason.


Some 52% of the British public said they were reluctant to attend A&E, 53% were reluctant to use an ambulance, and 48% were reluctant to use a GP practice, as they did not want to take up services’ time and capacity. 


The report, published today (Monday) by health policy consultants Incisive Health, reveals the extent of the challenge the NHS will face in encouraging people that health services are safe to use, amid fears that people with serious conditions are not seeking or receiving the treatment they need.


Instead, patients of all ages now prefer phone calls to face-to-face appointments for non-urgent medical advice. Only 18% said that they would want a face-to-face appointment, while 34% said their preferred method of receiving advice would be via a telephone consultation. 


Although video and online consultations were less popular overall, there was a disparity in attitudes between younger and older people towards digital health services. A fifth (20%) of 16-24 year olds would prefer an online video appointment, and 26% would use online services, including apps. However, in those 55 and over, this fell to only 11% for both forms of consultation


Cancer was reported as the public’s top priority for reopening the health service. More than half  (55%) of people in the UK identify getting cancer screening and treatment services back up and running as their top priority, highlighting concerns that patients have not been able to have their cancer diagnosed, or receive the treatment they need quickly enough during the pandemic.


Meanwhile, amid concerns of the impact of the pandemic, and subsequent lockdown, on the nation’s mental health, 35% felt that mental health support should be prioritised when re-starting routine healthcare services.


Looking ahead to a potential second wave of COVID-19, the British public felt that keeping NHS staff safe should be of the utmost importance, with investing in PPE for doctors and nurses prioritised by 45% of respondents. Likewise, to better prepare for future pandemics, 51% wished to see stockpiling of PPE.


Between late May and early June 2020, Incisive Health and polling consultants Censuswide surveyed 2,000 members of the British public on their attitudes towards using a range of health services. 


A similar picture was seen across Europe, as the same survey conducted in France, Germany, Italy and Spain found that people were most reluctant to use hospital-based services due to fear of time-wasting or catching COVID-19. This was especially true of Spain and Italy, where the impacts COVID-19 were felt hardest. Each country was also most likely to report cancer services should be prioritised when reopening the healthcare system.


Mike Birtwistle, health policy expert and Founding Partner at Incisive Health, said:


“Levels of coronavirus may be falling but public fear is still very real. As the NHS begins to restart services, it will need to convince that it is safe to use services and that doing so will not place a burden on the NHS. Otherwise the hidden impact of the pandemic on people’s health will only continue to grow.


“Cancer has always been a focus for the public and it is clear they want to prioritise cancer services in the ‘restart’. In the months ahead, NHS cancer services will be facing a significant backlog of patients in need of diagnosis and treatment, who may have seen their illness worsen as a result of restricted access to services. The NHS needs to set out a plan for catching up on cancer care and reassuring the public that it is safe to use services.” 

Editor Details

  • Company:
    • Incisive Health
  • Name:
    • Incisive Health
Last Updated: 15-Jul-2020