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5 insights from our summer COVID survey

For the 11 million people affected by lung conditions, concerns about coronavirus are still running high.

For many, difficult decisions about returning to work or going into hospital for appointments are adding to feelings of anxiety. But there is some good news too. Over 8,000 of you took part in our COVID summer survey, and here are 5 headlines.

Anxiety about coronavirus increased in summer

Despite the decreased levels of infection and deaths, people with asthma and lung conditions continue to be anxious about COVID. In fact, feelings of anxiety increased since the spring. 69% of people rated their anxiety at 8, 9 or 10 on a scale of 1-10, compared to 56% in May.

As lockdown restrictions lifted, the clinically vulnerable felt left behind, unable to enjoy the same freedoms.

While the lockdown period in March and April disrupted all our lives, it felt like everyone was in the same boat. As the lockdown restrictions lifted, the clinically vulnerable felt left behind, unable to enjoy the same freedoms, yet more exposed to risk. Shielders were particularly anxious about the pause in shielding announced in July - 79% were at 8, 9 or 10 on the anxiety scale about shielding support being lifted.

Catching coronavirus has affected people's breathing long term

More people said they had had coronavirus symptoms since February – 714 people, or 8.6% of respondents – despite all the measures to stay safe. Worryingly, more of you reported long term breathing problems after having coronavirus symptoms since May, with 58% (up from 37%) saying their breathing was worse or much worse.

Despite all the measures to stay safe, 8.6% of respondents said they'd had coronavirus symptoms.

This reflects what we are seeing with the long term effects of catching the virus, in our post-COVID hub survey. We have written to the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Chris Whitty, to highlight the effects of “long COVID” on people’s lung and mental health.

Delaying care is harming lung health

It's understandable that people feel nervous about seeking care, but for people with a lung condition this can be risky. Regular care is important to check your symptoms, while an attack or flare-up can be a sign your condition is getting worse.

A third of people delayed or avoided getting care - either because they didn't feel safe, or didn't want to over-burden services.

One in three people said they delayed or avoided seeing their GP or going to hospital – either because they didn't feel safe, or didn't want to over-burden services. A quarter also said their symptoms got worse as a result. 39% of people surveyed experienced an asthma attack or flare-up since the start of the pandemic, but most did not seek help.

A lot of care can be provided remotely. But if you do need face-to-face care, the NHS is implementing stringent safety policies to protect you from infection. We're now calling for the NHS to set out a plan to ensure people with lung conditions have access to the full range of services available. People with lung disease need to be reassured by the NHS that these services will be safe to use during the pandemic and in the event of a second wave of the virus. 

People are concerned about the lifting of shielding – especially workers

Two out of three people who took the survey thought that shielding was paused too early – although there was more trust in the government’s approach in the devolved nations. As we have explained, four in ten shielders plan to continue to shield despite the end of official advice and support.

Sadly, the reality for many is that they are expected to return to work even if they don’t think it’s safe. 

The overwhelming majority of you (94%) thought that people who were shielding should have the right to stay out of the workplace – either through choice or if their workplace was not COVID-secure – with their income protected. Sadly, the reality for many is that they are expected to return to work even if they don’t think it’s safe. This is in addition to the furlough scheme ending in October, taking away more protection for those whose workplaces are still too risky. One in seven say they could lose their job as a result, and a third have already lost income – rising to half of people with asthma and lung conditions on low incomes.

Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation are campaigning on this in the media and working with other charities affected to extend the furlough scheme for clinically extremely vulnerable who cannot return to work safely.

Good progress on quitting smoking for COVID and the flu jab

We did find positive news, as higher numbers of smokers (63%) told us that they have successfully quit, or are currently trying to quit. There's never been a better time to stop smoking, and we've shared stories of people taking this step to protect their lung health during this period of change.

However, more smokers who have quit or are trying to quit are doing so without support (47%), compared to when we asked in May (35%). You have a better chance of quitting if you get support from the NHS or your local pharmacist. You can find out more about the support on offer in our health information on quitting smoking.

With a potential second wave of coronavirus this winter, alongside the usual winter flu, hospitals could be overwhelmed with 80% more respiratory hospital admissions in winter than summer. Flu is a major trigger for asthma and lung disease in winter, but uptake of the flu vaccine is usually low.

We're raising awareness of how to safely get the flu vaccine, and to extend uptake to care home staff, to protect the most vulnerable.

One positive finding from our survey is that the flu vaccine uptake may increase this year, as 89% of you said you're planning to get the flu jab and over half say they are more likely to get vaccinated because of COVID. We are calling for a publicity campaign to raise awareness of how to get the vaccine, and to extend uptake amongst care home staff, to protect the most vulnerable.

Thank you to the thousands who took part in the survey, and shared your views throughout the pandemic. We receieved 8,268 responses between 10 and 15 July 2020.

Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation will continue to listen to your stories and represent your voice in the media and at the heart of government.

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26 August 2020