The impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare system

Published: 2023/07/06 Number of words: 1493


Coronavirus disease referred to as COVID-19 is caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome COVID-2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus and is an infectious disease which results in mild to moderate respiratory illness developing into more serious illness in those with underlying medical conditions.  The virus can be transmitted easily and spreads from an infected person’s mouth or nose in particles when exposed within their surroundings (World Health Organization, 2021).  In March 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of COVID-19 as a global pandemic due to increased numbers of cases in countries outside China where initial cases originated from (Domenico and Maurizio, 2020). As COVID-19 continued to rapidly spread worldwide, the unprecedented public health emergency demonstrated the effect on health facilities, medical resources, patients and health systems. This created immense pressure where capacities were stretched beyond limits (World Health Organization, 2020). The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlighted those vulnerabilities in health systems due to implications of the pandemic with an impact on health, economic progress, structure and trust (, 2020). The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the wider issues resulting from the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare systems till date.

Significance of the impact of COVID-19

The immediate impact resulted in increasing numbers of lives lost with an incremental cost to the healthcare system. In addition, there were financial implications associated to treating patients and consequently created challenges due to deferred care for routine check ups and treatment of chronic conditions. Behavioural health exacerbations also emerged with the rise in rates of anxiety and depression. An analysis conducted shows the significance by examining two independent and potential drivers of delayed or indirect impact to indicate it will likely last for several years contributing to healthcare spending and considerable economic and social cost (Hutchins et al., 2020).

The unparalleled demands placed on the healthcare system due to the pandemic demonstrated the industry’s response in resilience and the ability to use innovation to bring solutions rapidly. This points to prioritisation and balancing of initiatives in the short and long term. Hence, parts of the healthcare ecosystem will operate in different ways in the future. Due to the ongoing evolution in the industry, organisations need to assess readiness for innovation and having the required facilities in place (Jansen, Furstenthal and Cohen, 2020).

Different countries have adopted various approaches to tackle the pandemic through the level of preparedness, monitoring and management. Some patterns have emerged, and these are highlighted and covered below:

  • Healthcare workforce wellbeing: Due to the increasing demands on already stretched workforce resulting in psychological burden alongside concerns relating to emotional and physical exhaustion (Frawley et al., 2021). In the UK reports were shown that wellbeing was at an all time low with high rates of mental illness and poor morale. Other associated factors including lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), exposure to death and risks of infection also took a toll on staff across all levels.
  • Hospital infrastructure: An overwhelming demand with complex patient needs where facilities were stretched beyond capacity. It generated interruption to normal activity in the primary care setting and disruption to service delivery. Many areas of non – COVID care were shut down to meet demands.
  • Backlog of routine procedures: Several patients with life threatening and chronic conditions had treatments postponed or cancelled which compromised patient safety. In the UK National Health Service (NHS) as services reopen it faces an immense backlog of unmet patient need with long waiting times (British Medical Association, 2020).
  • Patient safety: The rapid changes in the model of delivery created challenges in the working environment affecting the ability of staff to deliver effective and safe care (Denning et al., 2020).
  • Rise in non-communicable diseases: It has been reported in a study that non-communicable diseases are interconnected to COVID-19 as underlying chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease precede serious illness and death. The mitigation measures put in place to control COVID-19 including social distancing and lockdown restrictions also contributes to difficulties for patients getting access to routine services and treatments. Another perspective resulting from such measures is unhealthy lifestyles including poor diet, smoking, alcohol and physical inactivity which carry a higher risk of predisposition to development of non-communicable diseases (Pan et al., 2021).
  • Behavioural risk factors: in controlling the spread of COVID-19 through various mitigation measures it causes heightened stress, unhealthy behaviours which have a psychological and social effect. This is linked to lack of social connections which helps people regulate negative emotions, cope and maintain resilience. Therefore, mental health, relationships and physical health are also affected (Badr et al., 2020).

The evolving healthcare system

Global healthcare systems are rapidly adapting to incorporate digital healthcare solutions for patient access to services. Several healthcare professional’s appointments have been conducted virtually with remote consultations. At the clinical site level strict infection control practises have been implemented and distinction between COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. Partnerships have taken place in countries to help expand capacity in the public sector. There has been a shift towards delivery of care in the right settings outside the hospital in outpatient settings including primary care and specialty services, to facilitate entry into the post COVID-19 era. There are also considerable impacts commercially in supply chain area for procuring PPE and diagnostics. The spotlight has been given to managing the care facilities for the elderly who are particularly vulnerable to cover 19. The healthcare workforce has also embraced agile and new ways of working in planning models to overcome the challenges. This includes a different approach to project management to enable rapid changes to be implemented (Britnell, 2020).


In shaping the future, dimensions to understand the landscape broadly and considerations must be made. There is a clear need for collaboration between countries and multiple professions. Digital transformation and artificial intelligence play a role in emerging technologies to develop new strategies and future preparedness. Patient safety depends on health worker safety and is an essential component of healthcare. Dealing with COVID-19 alongside managing non-communicable diseases should be taken into consideration for the health and wellbeing of the public. Collaboration is key to winning the fight against COVID-19 across all communities to minimise the impact on healthcare.


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