State of the nation: NAB’s 2020 Consumer Health Survey checks Australia’s pulse

NAB’s latest in-depth report reveals how Australians and the health system are coping with COVID-19.

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Feeling concerned, acting resilient: a national health survey published today details how Australians view their health amid the effect of COVID-19.

The NAB 2020 Consumer Health Survey takes the pulse of 1,000 Australians and how they feel about aspects of their health and the health system.

What emerges from the survey is a complex picture of resilience in the face of significant health and financial pressures against a backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. And, while the health system has responded to COVID-19’s challenges remarkably well, many individuals are reporting mental and social health concerns and some are avoiding the health system entirely.

Dean Pearson, Head of Behavioural & Industry Economics at NAB, and Kate Galvin, Customer Executive of NAB Health, unpack five of the report’s main findings from the perspective of both patients and health business owners.

  1. COVID and finances a significant health impact: COVID-19 is now Australians’ number one health concern, with the survey revealing respondents’ worry over COVID-19 was the most significant detrimental factor affecting their health. This came ahead of not getting enough exercise or sleep, not spending time with family or friends, managing stress, spending time away from technology and poor diet. Over one in six respondents also said that, as a direct result of COVID-19, they had lost their main income source. This clearly weighed on their health: these people reported much lower health outcomes than those who did not lose their income. Pearson, co-author of the NAB report, says that while COVID-19 clearly caused a financial impact for this group, it also brought emotional repercussions that could be just as damaging. “We know how important work is, not just from a financial position, but for our mental health,” he says. “Very few people choose not to work. People put a lot of psychological weight on their job; it’s a huge part of their self-worth. So I think we’re seeing those emotional pressures compounding with financial issues.”
  2. A sense of isolation unevenly spread: Almost one in five Australians reported “very high” feelings of loneliness and isolation. Confounding the stereotype of loneliness being an issue felt most keenly by older people, the NAB survey found the most lonely and isolated group were young people, particularly young men. And when it came to a need for professional mental health support, almost four in 10 Australians aged 18 to 24 said they felt they required help, compared with around half that number more generally. Of concern, only two in 10 said they had received it – the lowest of all age groups. Pearson explains that’s being compounded by financial pressures on younger people, which may partly explain their disengagement with health services. “Young people have been heavily impacted by the financial impacts of COVID-19, particularly those who rely upon work in sectors like hospitality and retail, and have fewer savings to draw upon,” he says, adding that the survey data showed people are reassessing what matters most. “For all cohorts, home, family and relationships matter even more during COVID.”
  3. Victoria facing a mental health challenge: Those in Victoria, with its more severe COVID containment strategy, are reporting greater mental health challenges: over one in four Victorians felt they needed professional mental help, compared with one in five in other states. While the good news is that many Victorians who needed help reached out and got it, Pearson believes there is the potential for a greater mental health problem down the line. “As the financial stabilisers are removed, we can expect to see spikes in physical and mental health issues, especially among the unemployed and young people, who are the ones tending to fall between the cracks.” Pearson believes that what we are seeing in Victoria’s second wave is clearly adding to the usual financial stress markers. “We know through other research that if an individual has a higher disposition to anxiety, lower levels of financial security can add to their mental health issues. And this is playing out in the survey.”
  4. Australia’s health system responding well: While COVID-19 has caused Australians many health challenges in 2020, the survey found the country’s health system has coped well. When asked whether they could access health care, only one in 10 Australians said they were unable to do so. Among those unable to access care, almost one in two required the services of a GP, one in four prescription items, and one in five dental care. Only around one in 20 were unable to access a COVID-19 test. “Only 15 per cent of people said they had an appointment cancelled, just 10 per cent were unable to access care, and satisfaction with the care people received remained extremely high,” says Kate Galvin, Customer Executive of NAB Health. “Of course there have been challenges and there will remain challenges. But on the whole what we’re seeing is a health system – our hospitals, our medical personnel and our infrastructures – coping incredibly well. “It’s a resilient system in which Australians have .”
  5. Telehealth continues to change the medical landscape: COVID-19 also contributed to a telehealth spike in 2020: the survey found almost four in 10 Australians had a non-face-to-face health consultation during COVID-19. Reassuringly, almost half of those who had a virtual medical experience found it about the same as a face-to-face consult. Galvin points out there’s no denying that telehealth has improved access to services in remote areas and for people who aren’t comfortable visiting doctors’ surgeries at the current time. “What people value from their health practitioner is having someone explain things simply and who listens to them,” she says. “Telehealth can be a great provider of that. Patients and practitioners have seen that it can work very effectively in a range of circumstances.” Pearson cautions, however, that it’s important to remember that fundamental change takes quite a long time. “The idea that we’ll all migrate to telehealth and won’t want to go back to doctors’ surgeries is unrealistic,” he says. “It’ll be a growing and valuable addition to the practitioner’s mix of tools.”

To find out more, download the NAB 2020 Consumer Health Survey