Patients of psychiatric wards in London faced an elevated COVID-19 risk

No one is safe from COVID-19, but some people are facing higher risks than others. For some the risk comes with professional settings, for others – with less than ideal living situations. Scientists at UCL now found that at least 38% of older adults in psychiatric wards in London were infected with COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic.

People in psychiatric wards depend on the staff to protect them from the risks of COVID-19. Image credit: Matti Blume via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA)

Researchers reviewed data from all 344 hospital patients of five mental health trusts in London. These patients were either over 65 or had early onset dementia. When these people were admitted to hospitals, they were not diagnosed with COVID-19. Scientists watched the situation from March to April and by that time 131 people included in the study ended up diagnosed with COVID-19 – that’s 38 %! In fact, scientists say that the real data might be even more shocking – testing early in the pandemic was pretty irregular and scarce.

Because of underlying health conditions (such as high blood pressure) many of these patients were at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications. Not to mention that older people typically have more difficult cases of this disease. Scientists say that these findings are quite shocking, because most of these patients were compulsorily detained under the Mental Health Act or Mental Capacity Act and still got infected. Professor Gill Livingston, lead author of the study, explained: “Most of these people had no choice but to be in psychiatric care, so the state has an ethical imperative to protect them. Our findings show that there are unequal standards of care between mental health and physical health wards.”

We always hear about how you should be careful in order to reduce the chance of getting COVID-19. Wash your hands, maintain social distance, work from home whenever possible. But some people, like patients at  psychiatric wards, can’t really take care of themselves and these institutions should maintain higher standards or COVID-19 prevention measures. But not everything is so bad.

Scientists found that the staff of the psychiatric wards adapted quickly to the changing situation regarding the global pandemic. They quickly implemented more measures to try to protect patients and other staff members. Furthermore, scientists say that these institutions will be well-prepared for the second wave of COVID-19. Hopefully, this proves to be the case for future pandemics as well and these shocking numbers are not repeated again.

COVID-19 is dangerous for everyone, but older people, especially those with underlying health conditions are at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms. Particularly vulnerable groups are those that are held in tight quarters by institutions and countries should feel responsible for taking good care of them during these tough times.


Source: UCL

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