Background: The COVID-19 pandemic is having a great impact on health services. Patients not receiving care due to closure of outpatient services suffer a collateral damage. Our aim was to provide first data on impact of COVID-19 on people experiencing disability in Europe.
Methods: We developed an estimation from a survey and publicly available data. Thirty-eight countries have been inquired through the European Bodies of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine - the rehabilitation medical specialty. The nine questions of the survey focused on March 31st, 2020. We used the following indicators: for inpatients, acute and rehabilitative hospital beds; for outpatients, missing uniform European data, we used information from Italy, Belgium and the UK, and estimated for Europe basing on population, number of rehabilitation physicians, physiotherapists, and people with self-reported limitations.
Results: Thirty-five countries (92%) including 99% of the population (809.9 million) answered. Stop of admissions to rehabilitation, early discharge and reduction of activities involved 194,800 inpatients in 10 countries. Outpatient activities stopped for 87%, involving 318,000 patients per day in Italy, Belgium and the UK, leading to an estimate range of 1.3-2.2 million in Europe. Seven countries reported experiences on rehabilitation for acute COVID-19 patients.
Conclusions: COVID-19 emergency is having a huge impact on rehabilitation of people experiencing disability. This may lead to future cumulative effects due to reduced functional outcome and consequent increased burden of care. When the emergency will fade, rehabilitation demand will probably grow due to an expected return wave of these not well treated patients, but probably also of post-COVID-19 patients' needs.