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Investigating the impact of COVID-19 on allergy and immunology services
25 August 2020

Earlier this year the IQAS and QPIDS accreditation teams collaborated with the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI) and UK Primary Immunodeficiency Network (UKPIN) to identify the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had across allergy and immunology services in the United Kingdom. Services were invited to complete a questionnaire to obtain information about service provision and recovery.

In order to identify the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on service provision, we analysed data from three fixed points; our baseline being February, our peak being April, and to measure progression.

95% of QPIDS registered services and 83% of IQAS registered services submitted data towards the questionnaire. 76 non-registered services also contributed, which primarily referred to paediatric allergy services who are not yet eligible to participate in the IQAS programme.


In this article, we’ll summarise some of the key findings.
 

Staffing

One of the many highlighted areas was the staffing changes as a result of COVID-19. We can see a clear drop in staffing across all allergy and immunology services from our baseline in February and, that by May, there had been no significant sign of staffing levels returning to pre-COVID levels.

 

*this is inclusive of consultants, specialist trainees, specialty general practitioners, nurses, dieticians, physiotherapists, psychologists, pharmacists, secretaries and admin staff.

 

A point of significance was that even during the difficulties the pandemic posed, all participating services stated that they were able to see over 80% of urgent referrals within 4 weeks.

 

Paediatric immunology were able to see 100% of urgent referrals, while adult immunology were able to see 97%, paediatric allergy 90% and adult allergy 88%.

Whilst services still the capacity to see urgent referrals, despite reduced staffing, it is important to note that the amount of appointments available as of 8 May 2020 still has not matched the baseline in February. This could  have an impact on service recovery and waiting times in the future.

 

Appointment types

The results from the survey also demonstrated a shift from face-to-face appointments to virtual and phone consultations in response to the pandemic.

*number of weekly appointments

The results display service response by increasing virtual appointment slots from April onwards to still provide patient care.

 

Positive changes made to services

Despite the challenging period, we wanted to understand if there were any unintended positive changes made to service provision. We found that most services agreed that there was:

  • a potential reduced risk of infection through new ways of working
  • reduced travel time for patients
  • improved flexibility for the workforce.

 

Other points of interest that were noted from the survey were:

  • Across the board services were still accepting non-urgent referrals during COVID-19 (100% paediatric immunology, 90% adult immunology, 83% paediatric allergy and 81% adult allergy).
  • On the whole, services responded that their daycase capacity had been affected due to the government guidelines at the time (90% adult immunology, 81% adult allergy, 87% paediatric allergy and 71% paediatric immunology).
 

Conclusion

The data collected has helped shape the understanding of the national impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on allergy and immunology services.

We would like to thank all services that participated in the survey and we hope that the results received has been useful in informing policy relating to your service’s recovery going forward.

If you have any further reflections on how COVID-19 has affected your service or have examples of innovative ways  your service is recovering, please contact us at askiqas@rcplondon.ac.uk as we would appreciate the opportunity to interview you for a blog to share learning across the UK This would take no longer than an hour of your time. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

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