54% of people in London are less likely to use health services during lockdown

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New figures reveal that 54% of people in London are less likely to access non-emergency health services amid the Coronavirus lockdown.

A YouGov Direct survey, commissioned by drug, alcohol and mental health charity We Are With You, found that the biggest barrier to people accessing health services was concerns about placing extra strain on the NHS (46%). This was followed by fear of catching Covid-19 (23%) and not being able to get an appointment (12%).

The new findings mirror We Are With You’s own UK-wide data which shows that referrals into treatment across its drug alcohol and mental health services have dropped by 52% since January. In particular, alcohol referrals have fallen by 72% during the lockdown period when compared to January 2020. However, the number of people contacting We Are With You’s online webchat service has increased in March and April compared to the first two months of the year. Calls to We Are With You in Scotland’s helpline have also risen by 200% during lockdown, with the percentage of alcohol related calls rising from 32% of all calls to 50% of all calls during this time.

The survey also found that more than six million people are worried about the drinking of someone they know during the current restrictions. The most common reasons people in London think someone may use alcohol at the current time are boredom (77%), relaxation (69%) and loneliness (57%). 87% of people think support from a family member or friend is important in helping someone with an alcohol problem, but only 12% would be very confident in starting discussions. Meanwhile, people are most likely to access advice online if they are concerned about a friend’s or family member’s drinking.

Sammie volunteers with We Are With You and is in recovery from alcohol. She said:

“I told myself that because I used to drink in fits and spurts rather than every day I didn’t have an issue. Alcohol made me feel confident and dulled my anxiety but once I started, I struggled to stop – with serious consequences for myself and my family.

“When I first started working with We Are With You I was really sceptical about what they could offer. But the staff were warm and didn’t judge or label me. My key worker Dawn asked me what I wanted to achieve and worked alongside me to get to that point. Now I’m using my experiences to support others.

“The current restrictions are tough for people like me who are in recovery. Isolation, boredom and anxiety are big factors which lead to people drinking more. And without work or other obligations to keep people in check, some people may go into spirals of drinking like I used to. But the support is still out there; online support groups are helping me cope and I still speak to Dawn on the phone. You don’t need to go through your GP or worry about putting extra strain on the NHS.”

These findings come as alcohol sales in supermarkets and off licences soared in March and April according to consumer analysts Kantar – and addiction experts from the Royal College of Psychiatrists have warned problem drinking is soaring during lockdown. Furthermore, findings from the charity Alcohol Change UK found that nearly one in five daily drinkers have increased their alcohol use during lockdown.

Laura Bunt, Deputy CEO at We Are With You, said:

“These are really tough times for everyone. It’s completely understandable that people don’t want to access health services across the board at the moment.  But the necessary coronavirus restrictions have led to an increase in drinking at home. At the best of times we know four out of five people with an alcohol issue aren’t accessing support, with less people wanting to access health services right now, there’s a danger we could be sleepwalking towards a public health crisis when this is all over.

“If you are concerned about your own drinking, or are one the millions of people concerned about the drinking of someone you know, drug and alcohol services remain open and are here to work alongside people during this difficult time. Our treatment services are warm, non-judgemental spaces where we work with people to help them make healthier choices. You don’t need to contact your GP or worry about putting extra strain on the NHS – just visit our website to find out who the provider in your local area is.

“We know that human connection and networks are vital to helping people make healthier choices and improve their wellbeing. The vast majority of people we’ve worked alongside credit someone who stood by them through thick and thin. Our website – www.wearewithyou.org.uk – has some really helpful advice if you are concerned about yourself or someone you know at the current time. You can also talk anonymously to a trained advisor via our online webchat. Remember, we are with you during this crisis.”