COVID-19 collateral: Indirect acute effects of the pandemic on physical and mental health in the UK
Kathryn E Mansfield,
Alasdair D Henderson,
Anthony A. Matthews,
Angel YS Wong,
Sharon L Cadogan,
Joseph F Hayes,
Jennifer K Quint,
Posted 30 Oct 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.10.29.20222174
Posted 30 Oct 2020
BackgroundConcerns have been raised that the response to the UK COVID-19 pandemic may have worsened physical and mental health, and reduced use of health services. However, the scale of the problem is unquantified, impeding development of effective mitigations. We asked what has happened to general practice contacts for acute physical and mental health outcomes during the pandemic? MethodsUsing electronic health records from the Clinical Research Practice Datalink (CPRD) Aurum (2017-2020), we calculated weekly primary care contacts for selected acute physical and mental health conditions (including: anxiety, depression, acute alcohol-related events, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] exacerbations, cardiovascular and diabetic emergencies). We used interrupted time series (ITS) analysis to formally quantify changes in conditions after the introduction of population-wide restrictions ( lockdown) compared to the period prior to their introduction in March 2020. FindingsThe overall population included 9,863,903 individuals on 1st January 2017. Primary care contacts for all conditions dropped dramatically after introduction of population-wide restrictions. By July 2020, except for unstable angina and acute alcohol-related events, contacts for all conditions had not recovered to pre-lockdown levels. The largest reductions were for contacts for: diabetic emergencies (OR: 0.35, 95% CI: 0.25-0.50), depression (OR: 0.53, 95% CI: 0.52-0.53), and self-harm (OR: 0.56, 95% CI: 0.54-0.58). InterpretationThere were substantial reductions in primary care contacts for acute physical and mental conditions with restrictions, with limited recovery by July 2020. It is likely that much of the deficit in care represents unmet need, with implications for subsequent morbidity and premature mortality. The conditions we studied are sufficiently severe that any unmet need will have substantial ramifications for the people experiencing the conditions and healthcare provision. Maintaining access must be a key priority in future public health planning (including further restrictions). FundingWellcome Trust Senior Fellowship (SML), Health Data Research UK. RESULTS IN CONTEXTO_ST_ABSEvidence before this studyC_ST_ABSA small study in 47 GP practices in a largely deprived, urban area of the UK (Salford) reported that primary care consultations for four broad diagnostic groups (circulatory disease, common mental health problems, type 2 diabetes mellitus and malignant cancer) declined by 16-50% between March and May 2020, compared to what was expected based on data from January 2010 to March 2020. We searched Medline for other relevant evidence of the indirect effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on physical and mental health from inception to September 25th 2020, for articles published in English, with titles including the search terms ("covid*" or "coronavirus" or "sars-cov-2"), and title or abstracts including the search terms ("indirect impact" or "missed diagnos*" or "missing diagnos*" or "delayed diagnos*" or (("present*" or "consult*" or "engag*" or "access*") AND ("reduction" or "decrease" or "decline")). We found no further studies investigating the change in primary care contacts for specific physical- and mental-health conditions indirectly resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic or its control measures. There has been a reduction in hospital admissions and presentations to accident and emergency departments in the UK, particularly for myocardial infarctions and cerebrovascular accidents. However, there is no published evidence specifically investigating the changes in primary care contacts for severe acute physical and mental health conditions. Added value of this studyTo our knowledge this is the first study to explore changes in healthcare contacts for acute physical and mental health conditions in a large population representative of the UK. We used electronic primary care health records of nearly 10 million individuals across the UK to investigate the indirect impact of COVID-19 on primary care contacts for mental health, acute alcohol-related events, asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations, and cardiovascular and diabetic emergencies up to July 2020. For all conditions studied, we found primary care contacts dropped dramatically following the introduction of population-wide restriction measures in March 2020. By July 2020, with the exception of unstable angina and acute alcohol-related events, primary care contacts for all conditions studied had not recovered to pre-lockdown levels. In the general population, estimates of the absolute reduction in the number of primary care contacts up to July 2020, compared to what we would expect from previous years varied from fewer than 10 contacts per million for some cardiovascular outcomes, to 12,800 per million for depression and 6,600 for anxiety. In people with COPD, we estimated there were 43,900 per million fewer contacts for COPD exacerbations up to July 2020 than what we would expect from previous years. Implicatins of all the available evidenceWhile our results may represent some genuine reduction in disease frequency (e.g. the restriction measures may have improved diabetic glycaemic control due to more regular daily routines at home), it is more likely the reduced primary care conatcts we saw represent a substantial burden of unmet need (particularly for mental health conditions) that may be reflected in subsequent increased mortality and morbidity. Health service providers should take steps to prepare for increased demand in the coming months and years due to the short and longterm ramifications of reduced access to care for severe acute physical and mental health conditions. Maintaining access to primary care is key to future public health planning in relation to the pandemic.
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