70% of older people had difficulty accessing health services during first Covid lock-down, finds national survey
Loneliness, physical and mental wellbeing, and the burden of extra caring responsibilities affecting older people in lockdown
In a national survey of older people in Wales more than two thirds (70%) said they had difficulty in accessing hospital, GP, dentist, and chiropody appointments during the first lock-down. “My father was informed that he had terminal lung cancer prior to lockdown and in my opinion was abandoned by the NHS.” – Female, aged 50 – 59, Swansea
While 78% of the respondents said not being able to see friends and family was their biggest challenge.
The survey was carried out by Age Cymru in collaboration with five national older people’s organisations. Funded by the Welsh Government, it received more than a 1,000 responses from older people across Wales.
Loneliness and isolation, already a significant issue for many older people, was compounded by the pandemic with 32% of respondents saying they were lonely, rising to 55% amongst those living alone. “I live on my own and am very independent, but as I was no longer engaged daily with the usual activities, I was often lonely” – Female, aged 75-79, Vale of Glamorgan.
Nearly half of the respondents (44%) said they found the situation mentally and emotionally challenging. “I have lost my voluntary work and classes and am on my own 24/7. Often feel suicidal.” – Female, Pembrokeshire
The pandemic also put extra pressure on older carers who often struggled on their own with less support from care services during the period, either as services reduced or because people were concerned about letting care staff into their homes. “No relief in any way for 24-hour care. I have cared for my husband without any help at all since 17 March 2020. The strain is immense” – Female, aged 85-89, Swansea.
Unsurprisingly accessing food and prescriptions was an issue for nearly one in four respondents with many relying on family and friends or volunteers to maintain vital supplies.
Other concerning experiences highlighted in the survey included being targeted with scams, loss of income through job losses, and having to travel for food or medical appointments with significantly reduced public transport options.
The survey also revealed some positives with many respondents citing the support they had from family, friends, neighbours and volunteers as well as having more peace and quiet. “Our local services and the community in general have shown kindness and great care during very difficult circumstances”- Older person, aged 75-79, Pembrokeshire.
Moving forward the survey found that many older people lacked confidence in re-engaging with their communities citing concerns about others not practicing social distancing, the lack of suitable public toilets, and reduced bus routes.
Age Cymru’s Chief Executive Victoria Lloyd said: “The survey has highlighted some real hardships for older people who, in many instances feel they have been abandoned by various support services.
“Not being able to access the healthcare they need, when they need it, could result in many older people suffering with an unnecessary deterioration in their health.
“Similarly, older carers left to cope on their own with very challenging caring responsibilities could find themselves exhausted and incapable of providing any sort of care in the months ahead.
“With winter coming we need a concerted effort to make sure that we have the right systems and support in place for older people; all of the organisations that worked together to produce this report are committed to working with decision-makers to ensure that older people’s voices are heard, that they are not abandoned and that their needs are met to the very best of our abilities.”
Julie Morgan MS, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services said: “I would like to thank Age Cymru and everyone who took part in this survey – the diversity of voices and experiences can help us to understand the individual challenges older people have faced over recent months and plan for the months ahead. I look forward continuing this dialogue to make sure older people can play an active role in re building our communities and economy. No one should feel invisible or abandoned because of their age – we must work across generations to re connect, build confidence and challenge ageist stereotypes.
“We will consult on the Strategy for an Ageing Society later this year and will be asking for your views on achieving our vision of an age friendly Wales.”