During the summer, the charity collected testimony from 953 patients across the UK about their experiences of care during the first wave of the pandemic and, particularly, the emergency measures introduced by the NHS in response. The majority of respondents were older people with long-term conditions, predominantly women over 55.
Since many NHS staff were redeployed away from general care to supporting covid-19 patients, not surprisingly, many other patients usually dependent on daily care reported feeling cut off, unsupported, anxious and lonely. The Patients Association's Chief Executive Rachel Power said that despite positive stories of communities responding to help those in need, the relationship between patients and the NHS has been 'profoundly disrupted'.
Fieldfisher is one of The Patients Association's recommended medical negligence law firms, and offers its support to the work of the charity in lobbying for improved patient care. Rather than criticising NHS care across the board, my reason for highlighting these recent findings is to acknowledge the urgent work now needed to redress the gap in care many people suffered and to find a way to repair some of the damage caused by the unintended interruption of essential therapies and support.
Parents with disabled children, for example living with cerebral palsy are concerned about the long-term impact of stalled physiotherapy sessions on the health of their children, as well as essential support such as speech and language therapy on their progress.
The mother of a one-year-old client with emerging cerebral palsy, for example, is extremely worried about the urgent need to prevent spasticity setting into the child's muscles, dangerously undermined by intensive, regular NHS physiotherapy not being available.
The child has been forced to miss sessions due to covid and now needs intensive treatment to correct high muscle tone on one side before it is too late. High demand means the treating hospital physio simply cannot offer the treatment.
While acknowledging the difficult situation facing the health service, the report calls for the health and care system to be built back better after the pandemic to support those, like our clients, left behind during the pandemic, and makes the following recommendations for the next phase of the emergency response:
- Recognise from the outset that the impact of the crisis will fall hardest on those who already face discrimination and inequality, including Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups, disabled people, carers, women and gender minority populations and those living in areas of high deprivation, and that these inequalities will affect some people in combination.
- Maintain the principles and values of patient choice, shared decision making and voice, so that services are shaped by patients, disabled people and others who most need them.
- Ensure there are fully resourced services available to help people maintain people’s mental wellbeing, to treat mental ill health, and to ensure that no one is left isolated.
- Ensure carers get the support they need, including emotional support, to continue to care for their loved ones.
- Provide clear, concise and timely communication, updated regularly, about the impact of the crisis on support and services, what is available in the interim, and when and how services may begin to restart.
- Ensure access needs are respected and met, including providing materials in different formats and languages, including signing, descriptions, captioning and transcription for all official visual content, and that people are able to access support offline if they do not have access to the internet.
- Maintain compassionate end-of-life and bereavement support services, with clear communication between staff, patients and others, and the opportunity to be with friends and family members unless totally impossible.
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