Centre for Health Services Studies

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Coronavirus and our health and social care system

9 March 2020

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How could COVIDー19 impact the UK health and social care system? 


As confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue rising in the UK, CHSS Senior Clinical Research Fellow (Public Health) Dr Lindsay Forbes has commented on the likely impacts on the UK health and social care system.

Lindsay 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.'

Lindsay 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 CHSS in January 2016 from King's College London and Queen Mary, University of London.



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Last Updated: 27/01/2015