Features

Coronavirus pandemic: the impact on Barnet three years on

On the third anniversary of the first lockdown, Data reporter Andrew Dowdeswell looks at how Covid-19 changed the borough

Jonathan Van Tam, Boris Johnson and Chris Whitty at a Covid-19 briefing – (Credit – Radar)

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the UK’s first lockdown three years ago this week.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a wide-ranging impact on life in the UK, from health to education and the economy. We looked at the latest data to see how Barnet has changed since the first lockdown.

Health

The most obvious effect the pandemic has had is on people’s health.

The latest figures from the UK coronavirus dashboard show more than 220,000 people have died as a result of Covid-19 across the UK – of these, 1,097 were based in Barnet.

But people’s health has been affected in other ways, including receiving key check-ups, waiting times on referrals, and their mental health.

For example, cancer waiting times have ballooned since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Just 54.4% of patients in England with an urgent GP referral for cancer treatment were seen within two months in January, the latest NHS England figures show – this is down from 74% in February 2020, while the NHS target is 85%.

In north central London, 94 of 242 patients (38.8%) were seen within two months – in April 2020, the earliest comparable figures, 96 of 141 (68.1%) were seen in time.

Jon Shelton, head of cancer intelligence at Cancer Research UK, said: “The Government is falling short of its manifesto promise of improving cancer outcomes in the UK and significantly improving cancers diagnosed at their earliest stage.

“We need Steve Barclay to step up and commit to a comprehensive and fully funded 10-year cancer plan which transforms our cancer services from world-lagging to world-leading.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are working to reduce the 62-day cancer backlog – which has fallen 35% since peaking in 2020 – but we know there is more to do.

“Over 2.8 million people were seen after urgent GP referrals between February 2022 and January 2023 and it is encouraging to see more patients coming forward for vital checks.

“NHS England continues to actively support those trusts requiring the greatest help to cut cancer waiting lists and we are working with NHS England to make further improvements.”

Many people’s mental health has also deteriorated during successive lockdowns, with the latest NHS England figures showing more people are receiving support than ever.

In England, 1.8 million people were estimated to be in contact with mental health services in December – up from 1.4 million in February 2020 and the highest since records began in April 2016.

In the former NHS North Central London CCG area, 31,975 people received support for their mental health in December.

Education

The pandemic caused massive disruption to education, with schools forced to educate children remotely and attendance levels declining.

The latest Department for Education figures show 1.6 million pupils across England missed at least 10% of their lessons in 2021-22 – more than double the 800,000 who were ‘persistently absent’ in 2018-19.

In Barnet, the rate of persistently-absent pupils rose from 8.2% in 2018-19 to 18.4% last year.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools work very hard to encourage good attendance but have little support as local authority attendance services have also reduced as a result of government cuts.

“We need a nationwide attendance strategy which supports struggling families and schools.”

The Department for Education said the vast majority of children are “in school and learning”.

A spokesperson added: “We work closely with schools, trusts, governing bodies, and local authorities to identify pupils who are at risk of becoming, or who are persistently absent and working together to support those children to return to regular and consistent education.”

Similarly, attainment for Key Stage 1 pupils has fallen in recent years. Every area in the country saw fewer children achieve the expected standard across all four key subjects: reading, writing, maths and science.

In Barnet, just 68% of Key Stage 1 pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, 61% in writing, 70% in maths and 80% in science.

Economy

Three lockdowns, furlough and restricted spending had long-lasting effects on the British economy. Businesses were forced to close, consumers were unable to spend freely, and many lost jobs and income during the pandemic.

One of the changes that occurred was the move to remote work, and figures from Google, which uses location data from phones and other personal devices to track trends in people’s movement, shows workplace activity remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

The latest data, which covers Monday October 10 to Friday October 14 last year, shows footfall across the UK remained around 25% lower than a five-week baseline period recorded before the pandemic – in Barnet, workplace activity was 35% down on pre-pandemic levels.

Similarly, 2021 saw 327,000 businesses closed – a 9% increase on the year before and the highest number since 2017.

Of these, 2,945 were closed in Barnet.


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