While lockdown restrictions have largely lifted across the country, new research has revealed the potential for lasting secondary health impacts, due to the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns on Australians’ engagement with their broader health.
The research, commissioned by leading Australian life insurer TAL , highlights that those living in the more heavily locked down states of Victoria and New South Wales delayed visiting their GP due to COVID-19 – specifically, 48% of Victorians and 46% of those from New South Wales, compared with 22% of Western Australians and 30% of Queenslanders.
Those same states were also around twice as likely to say COVID-19 negatively affected their usual professional skin check practices – 40% of Victorians and 36% from New South Wales compared to only 17% of West Australians and 23% of Queenslanders.
More broadly, 39% of Victorians and 34% of those from New South Wales have not prioritised their skin health this year due to the pandemic, compared with 21% of West Australians and 22% of Queenslanders - indicating that those living in heavily restricted states could be at greater risk when it comes to skin cancer detection.
Introducing the 2021 TAL SpotChecker Australian Skin Safety Report, Dr Priya Chagan, TAL General Manager of Health Services, said: “Australians have faced many challenges to their health and wellbeing during the last 18 months. Whilst COVID-19 restrictions have helped to contain the pandemic, they may have contributed to secondary health impacts with the most locked down states facing the most disruption to their usual health practices and their ability and comfort levels in getting professional health checks.”
TAL SpotChecker is a national skin safety awareness program designed to drive education and engagement around skin safety and help more Australians access professional skin checks and understand how to self-check their skin.
On a more positive note, at a national level, the number of Australians who have never had a professional skin check has continued to reduce – from 39% in 2017 down to 35% in 2020, and again to 29% in 2021 – according to data collected through the TAL SpotChecker program over the last five years.
Dr Chagan said: “Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in Australia with 2 in 3 Australians likely to be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer by the age of 70, according to the Cancer Council of Australia . One of the greatest preventative measures against skin cancer, agreed by physicians, is regular self-checking and getting professional skin checks.
“People from those states that were significantly locked down, said they spent remarkably less time outdoors which could lead to a false sense of confidence when it comes to the need to regularly self-check.
“Skin cancer does not discriminate and can develop over time whether you spend little or no time in the sun. COVID-19 exacerbated the existing concern of people not self-checking or getting professional skin checks regularly enough, so we are calling on all Australians to re-engage with skin safety this summer to ensure they identify any unusual spots early and maximise the likelihood of successful treatment.”
The research suggests overall that lifestyle and location impact Australians’ perceived susceptibility and their likelihood to adopt skin safe practices, with more needing to be done to support people talking about and committing to skin safety.
“When it comes to state-by-state attitudes, TAL’s latest edition of the TAL SpotChecker Australian Skin Safety Report shows that some Australians are more aware of their risks due to their location and lifestyle influences,” Dr Chagan said.
For example, 82% of Queenslanders feel more exposed to skin cancer risks because of where they live, and they are 11% more likely than the average Australian to always or frequently seek shade when spending time outdoors. More than that, only 15% of Queenslanders say they never self-check their skin, compared to the 19% national average.
“It’s clear from these statistics that, while we have more people nationally that have self-checked their skin, there is still more work to be done to encourage Australians to take control of their skin health and understand that skin cancer can affect anyone, at any time.
“The good news is that over half of Australians feel they should be self-checking their skin or getting professional skin checks more often, and with TAL SpotChecker, our goal is to continue to educate and provide resources to help Australians take action against skin cancer,” Dr Chagan said.
Visit TAL SpotChecker for more information and resources and to book a skin check at your local GP.