Reminder: other health risks are still important as COVID-19 restrictions ease

Australians with chronic illnesses and other vulnerable groups remain at risk from non-COVID-19-related conditions as the physical restrictions imposed by the pandemic start to ease, a Deakin University Institute for Health Transformation expert warned today.

Written by Claire Whiteley

Professor Elizabeth Manias, a nurse and pharmacist who works with the Institute’s Centre for Quality and Patient Safety and Deakin’s School of Nursing and Midwifery said an observable reluctance by some Australians to seek medical advice during the pandemic was likely to remain high as restrictions are gradually loosened.

“Statistics from the UK show that deaths from non-COVID-19-related conditions have been higher than normal during the pandemic, which is a stark reminder to Australians to remain vigilant and stay engaged with their health providers,” Professor Manias said.

“Individuals may feel that health professionals such as their general practitioner, specialist, pharmacist, optometrist, midwife or nurse might not be interested right now, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Everyone must seek help and get checked out if something doesn’t feel right. Australia’s hospitals are not over-run and people who need medical care can receive it.

“Emergency surgery and intensive care units are operating with space and resources, and elective surgery is recommencing.”

Professor Manias said Australia was much better placed than Europe and hadn’t seen an increase in death rates compared with average data over the past five years, but fear of contracting the coronavirus, general stress from changes in everyday lives and a lack of understanding about the services available had contributed to public reluctance to seek medical care.

“People with a chronic illness can deteriorate quite quickly without correct monitoring and treatment,” Professor Manias said.

“Another concern is that people who could have a potentially serious condition may not get a diagnosis soon enough. This could significantly affect their long-term prognosis.

“All Australians need to be aware of any changes in their health, such as lumps or swellings, unusual bleeding, persistent cough, pain, unusual bowel motions, changing moles, weight loss or changes in vision, and have these checked out as soon as possible by a general practitioner, pharmacist, nurse or other health professional.”

Professor Manias said those most at risk were people with depression, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, lung diseases, asthma and arthritis, as well as vulnerable groups such as people aged 65 years and over or people from non-English-speaking backgrounds or low socioeconomic groups.

She added that concession holders and other vulnerable patients are entitled to free, timely healthcare through telehealth.

“Some people are still hesitant about using telehealth and may not understand that doctors can diagnose a condition, prescribe medication or refer patients to a specialist without a physical examination and people may be concerned about costs or privacy. People need to know that privacy is assured and telehealth is subsidised by Medicare.

“Also, Australia Post is offering free home delivery for vulnerable members of the community via Express Post of medications and other supplies under 500 grams once a month.”