In a panel discussion at Future Human, we examined how Covid-19 has affected people with other health conditions and what lessons can be learned as we look to the future.
Covid-19 has undeniably put a spotlight on healthcare, from how we take care of ourselves when we’re sick to the importance of spending on our health service at a national level.
But unfortunately, while the topic of health has dominated our global headlines for most of the year, the severity of Covid-19 has forced many other healthcare needs to one side.
At Future Human last month, I spoke to Dominic Layden, the CEO of Aware, Amy Kelly, the director of the Irish Society of Colitis and Crohn’s disease, and Dr Robert O’Connor, head of research at the Irish Cancer Society, on a panel about health during a pandemic, in association with Janssen.
While all three agreed that the pandemic has forced the topic of mental health as well as chronic and long-term illnesses to the forefront of many people’s minds, it has also presented difficult challenges for their communities and their organisations.
“When the first lockdown came, we saw a dramatic increase in calls to our support line and our email service,” Layden said. “We were looking at around 60pc increases in calls to our line compared to the previous year in April, May and June and we’re in this phase now and we’re still unable to answer about 25pc of all the calls that we receive at the moment because the demand is that high.”
Kelly, who was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in 2019, spoke about the impact the pandemic and subsequent restrictions had on those with similar conditions.
“I think people living with IBD in particular really were worried about the implications it was going to have on their illness because a lot of us would be immunosuppressed due to the medication we perhaps take so there was all of these concerns and queries coming up in relation to that.”
Meanwhile, O’Connor talked about the severe distress the pandemic had caused for many people with cancer, particularly as a high-risk group. “We had to rebuild overnight a psychological and psychiatric support service for those, and we now deliver up to level five in counselling and psychiatric support nationally and through our support line.”
He also spoke about the loss of Daffodil Day in March, the Irish Cancer Society’s major annual fundraising initiative. “We had huge support from the tech industry, including from the likes of Twitter, to help us overcome that but we still brought in €2m less than we would on that one day alone,” he said.
“Without [fundraising], each of our organisations is essentially dead in the water so it is a challenging situation at the minute.” He added that he has seen massive support from the public over the past few months and hopes to maintain that into 2021.
Positive new learnings
While Covid-19 has challenged charitable and volunteer-led organisations, while also adding massive amounts of stress to high-risk groups and those living with anxiety and depression, each of the panellists cited some positive side effects of the pandemic.
Kelly spoke about how the growth of virtual events has massive benefits for those with IBD. “Online really worked for people living with IBD, we’ve eliminated the pressure if you’re in a flare perhaps the day you are due to attend an event or travel across the country for something, that’s now eliminated.”
Layden added that Covid-19 has forced all members of society to talk about issues such as mental health more, which is a positive outcome. But he warned that it needs to go further. “There’s a big gap between talking about it and actually doing something about it,” he said.
O’Connor echoed this, saying: “If we’re not there and those things essentially disappear, there is no other safety net.”