Emergency measures introduced to help NHS cope with COVID-19 pandemic came at a huge cost to patients, Patients Association finds

  • Survey shows patients across the UK had difficulties accessing care, and experienced increased levels of worry, and loneliness
  • Patients report a mix of good and bad experiences, but with half left feeling unsupported
  • Patients now want access to services to return to normal
  • Patient Association identifies six lessons for healthcare services that could reduce impact on patients during a second COVID-19 peak.

A survey of nearly 1,000 patients in the UK found more than half (59%) had struggled to access at least one healthcare service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly one in four of respondents had had difficulty accessing GP, dentistry and diagnostic services.

Chief Executive of the Patients Association, Rachel Power, said: “It is clear the pandemic is not over and the NHS may have to take further drastic steps. We are certainly worried about what the coming winter might hold for patients and the NHS needs to be responsive to what patients have told us about their needs in this survey. When the time comes to rebuild, using this emergency period as a long-term basis for services should be unthinkable.”

While some of the survey’s findings were bleak in terms of access problems, poor communication and patients feeling unsupported, some respondents had good experiences with friends, family members and neighbours supporting one another, voluntary and mutual aid groups providing vital help, and caring, helpful health and care professionals. Other patients reported compassionate and flexible care.

Power said: “The findings are not all bad. The reports of communities coming together to help the most vulnerable show that we continue to be a compassionate country at heart. But it’s clear from what patients have told us that we need to do better in the future, both in responding to future emergencies, and in the long-term rebuilding of our health and care services.

“That’s why we’re making the following six suggestions to ensure all patients, disabled people, carers and others are able to access health and case services, should services have to adapt again to high caseload of COVID-19 patients.”

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. Ensure carers get the support they need, including emotional support, to continue to care for their loved ones
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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.


The Patients Association has been supported to fund this survey and report through sponsorship provided by Novo Nordisk and ENGINE | MHP. Novo Nordisk and ENGINE | MHP have had no influence over the development of the survey or the content of the report.

See here for the full results of the survey.