A council report is predicting a grim post-coronavirus Bedford, with “profound” knock-on effects that may last for a generation.
The report will be presented by Ian Brown, the Borough Council’s chief officer for public health, to the council’s health and well-being board, tomorrow (10 June).
“The impact of covid-19 on local health and well-being is profound,” says the report.
“Alongside the direct impact of the virus itself, the measures that have been taken to control the spread of the virus… will affect people’s income, job security, education, social contact and mental well-being.”
As fewer people have use of healthcare services for non-covid-19 problems, “this could mean that potentially urgent health problems have gone undiagnosed or chronic problems have worsened.”
Public health chiefs in the borough are now preparing to review all their strategies to cope with the impact on job losses, mental health, and the closure of schools.
The report, ‘Beyond lockdown – Anticipating the medium and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on population health and well-being’ also warns that health screening and immunisation services for preventable diseases have also been disrupted.
Mr Brown says the impact is likely to be seen in waves, and he assumes that there will only be a single peak of covid-19 infections, but adds this “may be an optimistic scenario”.
Doctors’ concerns at non-covid backlog
The warnings in the report seem to echo the concerns of the British Medical Association (BMA) who, as we reported on Saturday (6 June), found 49% of the region’s doctors concerned about a non-covid backlog.
The Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has sought to dismiss the BMA’s findings, “…practices are working hard to provide for patients in new ways, ensuring the safety of patients and staff is their number one priority,” they said.
But Mr Brown’s report remains hard-hitting and looks at a wide-range of impacts.
There could be a reduced rate of breastfeeding and more risk of postnatal depression, with new parents feeling isolated without support from friends and family, the report suggests.
The impact on early years’ development, obesity rates, child poverty, missing routine immunisations, which may lead to “outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles”, has also been included.
However Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust say they’re already begun restarting maternity services in the local area, so they can support new and young families.
“We know that during pregnancy, birth and beyond are crucial times when women and their families need our support the most,” said a Bedfordshire NHS Trust spokesperson.
“Decisions to implement changes to care are made by closely consulting national guidance to ensure the safety of all women and babies using our service.”
Deprived, vulnerable and marginalised most at risk
The report also looks at older age groups, warning that self-isolation may mean less physical activity, more mental health problems, and more risk of falling over.
Older people and those in at risk groups may also be more anxious about getting their seasonal flu jab before the winter season.
The report adds, “The long-term impact of bereavement and grief on individuals, families and communities may be exacerbated by restrictions on normal funeral rites, and physical separation from loved ones at the time of death and during the grieving process.”
But Mr Browns says the effects won’t be felt the same across Bedford’s population.
“These impacts are likely to disproportionately affect deprived, vulnerable and marginalised groups, and the effects may last a generation,” his report says.
The health and well-being board is being asked to support reviewing and updating its health strategies.
Cllr Louise Jackson, Portfolio Holder for Health and Wellbeing, at Bedford Borough Council says central government needs to help minimise the impact too.
“The report makes it very clear that the impact of Covid19 will be felt for many years to come,” she says.
“Local Government and health partners will have to tackle all of these issues with services that have been hit hard by devastating central Government funding cuts over the last 10 years. That situation must be reversed immediately.
“Our economy should be reprioritised to give local government, public health, social care, the NHS and indeed all public sector services the financial resources necessary to address the structural inequalities that are being exacerbated by the pandemic.
“We have a very long and bumpy road ahead.”
Meanwhile, Cllr Graeme Coombes, leader of Bedford Borough Council Conservatives, agrees the report highlights what health officials need to prepare for.
“It is abundantly clear that the impact of covid-19 on public health is much wider than the virus alone.
“As health services have – rightly – been re-prioritised to tackle the immediate danger of covid-19 head on, this has had a disruptive impact on ‘regular’ health services.
“Whilst the focus on tackling the spread of and recovery from covid-19 must remain the number one priority, public health officials need to look to the future, concentrating on how we can get regular health services back on track.
“People requiring pre- and post-natal support, immunisation, health screening, mental health services and elective surgery, amongst other issues, must be given the assurance that these regular health services will quickly be able to return to normal.
“Equally, measures must be put in place to address the direct consequences of people not being able to access these essential services during this period of disruption.”
Words: Paul Hutchinson and Local Democracy Reporter, David Tooley.