Fears about being admitted to hospital during peak periods of the pandemic

This page explores the concerns that people had about going to hospital during peak periods of the pandemic. These were times such as March 2020 and January 2021 when there were high numbers of people catching Covid and dying from it. Covid-related deaths appeared to be greatest among people from minority ethnic and religious groups, and those in public-facing or frontline jobs.

Dr Jenny Douglas explains why deaths appeared to be greater among people from minority ethnic and religious groups.

Concerns about going to hospital have lessened since Covid vaccination became widely available. Following the national vaccination campaign, fewer people required admission to hospital.

The topics in this section are:

  • Fears about going to hospital, and dying there alone
  • Worries among ethnic minority groups regarding high numbers of deaths

Fears about going to hospital, and dying there alone

Before vaccines people were frightened of becoming very ill with Covid and needing to go to hospital. Rabbi Wollenberg remembered ‘there was a huge fear of going into hospital’ at the beginning of the pandemic. Gulsoom and Sonal heard rumours that ‘once you go into hospital, you’re not going to come back’. Doreen said that going to hospital ‘would have scared me more than the virus’ and was frightened that ‘I might not come out’.

Because of the infectiousness of Covid, it was rare that family or friends could accompany or visit someone in hospital. Robert didn’t want to ‘be in a hospital where my family can’t see me’. Gertrude was frightened that she might die alone in hospital away from her children. The idea of being alone in hospital made Emdad worried about whether he would receive appropriate religious rites if he died.

Gertrude preferred to be at home with her son than risk dying alone in hospital.

People were sometimes reluctant to ask for help because they were afraid of going into hospital alone. Robert was so fearful that even when he was ‘stood up in my bathroom gasping for breath’ the foremost thought in his mind was ‘whatever happens, don’t call the ambulance’.

Worries among ethnic minority groups regarding high numbers of deaths

Throughout the pandemic there have been higher numbers of death among people from minority ethnic and religious groups. News stories reporting such headlines raised particular fears for people who identified as members of these groups.

Sunita heard in the news that deaths from Covid were higher among people of colour.

Doreen worried that these higher death rates were because minority ethnic groups were receiving worse care in hospitals. Shirin and Mohammed feared that they would be less of a priority for hospital staff because they were both older and Asian.

Doreen was concerned that people from ethnic minorities with Covid were being badly treated in hospitals.

Mohammed and Shirin were relieved Mohammed received good care in hospital after hearing worrying rumours.

Doreen and Shirin were also concerned for people who are not able to speak English well. They were nervous that anyone less able to communicate in English would be overlooked by staff. Even without a language barrier, this fear of being abandoned increased at times when visitors were not allowed, as friends and relatives who could have spoken up for them would not be present.

Shirin was worried that people who struggle with English would receive worse care in hospital.

Doreen feared that there would be nobody to ‘talk for her’ if she was alone in hospital.

Gulsoom and Mudasar described ‘fake news’ that was generating further fear in their communities. These included messages warning people to avoid hospitals because nurses were trying to kill patients. Robert also heard rumours that hospitals would use Covid patients as ‘guinea pigs’ for new treatments.

Despite their fears, among the people we spoke to who were admitted to hospital, they generally felt they received good care, even when it was busy. Laszlo had a longer stay in hospital, and remembered how a nurse held his hand when he felt anxious. Rabbi Wollenberg felt that staff were ‘very nice’ to him, though he was still glad he only spent a few days in hospital.