Disabled people struggling to access care and treatment since pandemic

By Jemma Crew, PA Social Affairs Correspondent
·4-min read

Half of disabled people who were receiving care before the coronavirus pandemic said they cannot now access all the treatment they need, figures show.

Around three in 10 (29%) said they are only receiving care for some of their conditions, and a further 22% said their treatment had been cancelled or did not start, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This compares with 27% of non-disabled people reporting the same when polled between September 24 and October 4.

Access to medical care for disabled people during Covid-19 pandemic
(PA Graphics)

Just over a quarter (27%) of disabled people said their care had started or continued as normal, compared with 44% of non-disabled respondents.

And 15% of disabled people and 16% of non-disabled people said their care had continued or started but was reduced during the outbreak.

Of the 50% of disabled people receiving care for just some of their conditions or whose care was cancelled, 45% said they feel their health has worsened.

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This compares with 18.4% of non-disabled people reporting that their health had worsened.

When disability data was last released, in July, it showed that 25% of affected disabled people had reported deteriorating health.

The ONS analysed 1,573 responses from adults in Britain to its opinions and lifestyle survey, and research commissioned by the Cabinet Office disability unit.

Disabled people were more likely than non-disabled respondents to say their wellbeing, health, access to healthcare and relationships were being affected by the pandemic.

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Access to healthcare and treatment for non-coronavirus related issues was a main worry for 13% of disabled people compared with 5% of non-disabled people.

And 17% of disabled people reported a new or worsening health problem in the last seven days, compared with 6% of non-disabled people.

It also found that twice the proportion of disabled people said the pandemic has worsened their mental health (41%), compared with non-disabled respondents (20%).

Almost half of disabled people (47%) reported high levels of anxiety in September, compared with 29% of non-disabled people.

They were also more likely to report feeling lonely (45% versus 32%), spending too much time alone (40% versus 29%) and having nobody to talk to (24% versus 12%).

And 24% of disabled people felt they were a burden to others, compared with 8% of non-disabled people.

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David Ainslie, of the ONS, said: “Our analysis shows that many disabled people were as worried about the impacts of the pandemic on their lives in September as had been the case in April.

“A particular issue for disabled people was the impact on their health among those who were not receiving the same level of medical care as they had before the pandemic.

“This was a different picture from the experience of non-disabled people during the coronavirus pandemic.”

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Richard Kramer, chief executive of disability charity Sense, said: “Disabled people have been under huge pressure throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, with many having limited access to vital local services such as therapies and medical treatment.

“We’ve seen time and time again how disabled people have been disproportionately affected and these latest figures show the devastating impact of reductions in care and support on disabled people’s health – they simply have been forgotten by Government.

“As we continue through the second lockdown, we can’t let this get any worse.”

James Taylor, director of strategy, impact and social change at the disability equality charity Scope, said: “Levels of concern and anxiety among disabled people remain disproportionately high.

“Some disabled people face the impossible choice between staying safe, or paying the bills and taking their chances with a deadly virus. Others face the undeniably isolating impact of having spent months-on-end alone since March, with many never having stopped shielding. This is taking an enormous toll on mental health and wellbeing.

“We are concerned that too many disabled people will continue to fall through the gaps of the support measures on offer from Government and will have to choose between heating and eating this winter.”