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New research shows impact of pandemic on patients’ access to healthcare

Irish Cancer Society and Irish Heart Foundation urge public to address any ongoing symptoms with their GP


Dublin, Wednesday 3rd November 2021: New research from Pfizer shows that one in five people (21%) are worried that they could have missed out on a diagnosis and treatments due to the pandemic with around 50% either cancelling medical appointments or missing scheduled appointments. Hospital-initiated cancellations were higher among older age groups with 28% of over 65s having a hospital appointment cancelled compared to 16% of 25-34-year-olds. Meanwhile, slightly more than one-in-ten (11%) adults did not seek treatment despite feeling unwell during this period.

However, the annual Pfizer Health & Science Index reveals that people are less worried about visiting the hospital compared with last year with almost one-fifth (18%) of respondents very or quite worried and would not visit a hospital – a nine-point drop compared to 27% in 2020. Similarly, this year’s findings show that just 16% of people are very or quite worried and would not visit their GP. Despite this drop compared to 2020, 43% of people believe they experienced a negative health implication of the pandemic with mental health, diet and weight and a lack of exercise predominating.

The research also shows that people are anxious about their long-term health and the prospect of developing a variety of serious illnesses in the future, with cancer the most significant concern. Of those who state they were concerned about cancer as they age (50%), some 21% of respondents (41% of women) said they were concerned about getting breast cancer, 18% had concerns about contracting cervical cancer (35% of women) and 39% were concerned about all other forms of cancer.

The Pfizer Index shows that respondents have similar concerns about getting other diseases, with 40% concerned about heart disease; 37% worried about developing Alzheimer’s and over one-quarter of those surveyed (28%) responding that they have concerns about developing depression later in life.

Commenting on the research, Paul Reid, Managing Director, Pfizer Healthcare Ireland said; “It’s clear from the research that people have put off going to their doctor and it is really important that anyone with an ongoing health issue visits their GP to seek help. It is understandable that people are worried about having a stroke or getting cancer, however scientific advancement and health outcomes are getting better and with early diagnosis and access to treatments, patients have a better chance of a positive outcome.”

Rachel Morrogh, Director of Advocacy & External Affairs, the Irish Cancer Society, added; “COVID-19 has presented many health system challenges which have made it more difficult for the public to access non-COVID care. This year’s research reveals that the public is concerned that this may have impacted their health. The findings underscore the importance that if anyone is worried about missing an appointment or if they have not sought medical advice yet, to make an appointment with their GP or clinician as soon as possible.

“It’s so important for anyone who is concerned about their health generally or who feels they may have neglected a lump or a mole to reach out for a referral. When it comes to cancer, early detection and early intervention is proven to save lives. It’s vital to seek medical attention quickly if a potential symptom is identified.”

Commenting on the findings, Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy, the Irish Heart Foundation said: “The research found that four in 10 respondents are worried that they’ll develop heart disease later in life. The Irish Heart Foundation would stress that up to 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable and that by actions such as controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, limiting alcohol intake and not smoking we can all minimise our risk of heart disease and stroke.

“The Foundation would also urge anyone who is worried about a missed diagnosis to make that appointment that they have been putting off today and not wait until it’s too late. In addition to phone and online consultations, people should feel confident that it is safe to visit their GP or clinician in person. This is especially important if you are experiencing symptoms or have pre-existing heart conditions.”

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