Lack of essential medical service recognition for UK trichology industry across pandemic has caused significant harm, trichologists warn
A new poll among members of the Institute of Trichologists (IOT) has revealed concerning insight into the prevalence of so-called post-COVID hair loss and the negative impact on mental health that existing patients are experiencing due to the interruption of their treatment programmes. The UK trichology industry must now wait until 12th April to recommence face-to-face appointments, but a whopping 94% of expert trichologists surveyed said they believe trichology clinics should have been allowed to stay open under lockdown restrictions.
One in two adults in the UK suffer with some form of hair or scalp concern – a shocking statistic – and yet trichologists have been prohibited from practising (with the exception of online consultations) across the pandemic. Unlike other allied health professionals – such as physiotherapists and opticians – who are still allowed to operate, trichology is not currently considered an essential medical service. Trichology is the branch of scientific study and practice concerning the hair and scalp, yet its role can sometimes be misunderstood as an extension of aesthetic services such as hairdressing. Members of the IOT are required to undertake training in biology, anatomy and physiology as well as the immune and endocrine systems. Although not medically registered they are highly educated and knowledgeable about all things related to the hair and scalp, often working with GPs and Dermatologists to ensure the best outcome for every patient. Many patients are simply unaware of the potential benefits of seeking such professional and expert help. The stress and strain that the NHS has been under due to COVID would benefit from more collaborative working with Trichologists who can diagnose and treat so many conditions, only involving GPs or Dermatologists where necessary, thus freeing up resources to deal with other conditions.
Many trichologists have reported feedback from patients who are suffering not only from their hair or scalp condition but also the negative impact of their condition on their mental health due to the closure of clinics.
Nearly 70% of trichologists have seen an impact on patients’ mental health while 66% have seen a deterioration in patients’ conditions. Furthermore, 67% have indicated widespread interruption of treatment programmes while 50% report patients developing serious self-esteem issues as a result.
In light of these shocking results, the Institute of Trichologists is now campaigning for greater and official recognition of the medical credibility of trichology to avoid any future long-term closure of services. Mental health strains as a result of many elements of the pandemic have been widely documented over the past year, but the UK trichology industry is frustrated that the struggles faced by many of their patients have not formed part of this narrative.
“Though hair and scalp conditions may not be life limiting, they can certainly be quality of life limiting,” says Eva Proudman, Consultant Trichologist & Chair of the Institute. “There is a danger in assuming that hair and scalp problems are only cosmetic concerns when the impact of conditions such as pattern hair loss, alopecia and scalp psoriasis can be deeply traumatising and upsetting for patients. Without access to physical consultations and the ‘hands on’ assessment which is so important for diagnosis and successful treatment, we are seeing a severe and rapid deterioration in patients’ mental health during this latest lockdown, which in turn could worsen their conditions.”
The poll also indicates just how large the spike in ‘Long Covid’ and stress related hair and scalp issues is, with 79% trichologists reporting seeing cases of post-COVID hair loss since March 2020. A key symptom of this condition is excessive hair shedding (telogen effluvium) which can be very traumatic for patients, especially since they cannot currently visit a trichologist in person. In the poll, trichologists report seeing anywhere between 1 and 35 patients presenting with this condition over the past year, showing just how common this frightening side effect of COVID-19 is.
Trichologists are frustrated at the continued closure of clinics not only because trichology is not recognised as an essential medical service but also because their stringent hygiene and safety policies would allow for COVID-safe appointments. Richard Spencer MIT, Clinical Trichologist at The Spencer Clinic, London and a registered member of the Institute of Trichologists is confident that trichology clinics can reopen safely during the pandemic.
“Since the start of the outbreak, we have worked hard on a robust Covid-19 policy in order to protect both trichologists and patients. This includes a series of questions on arrival and during an appointment, regularly taking the temperature of staff and patients, providing hand sanitising stations and wearing masks at all times. For appointments lasting up to an hour, patients will be able to undergo a lateral flow test. For even longer sessions, patients will receive an official COVID-19 test. We take health and safety very seriously and are confident that with this policy, we can safely reopen and begin treating patients once again.”
The results of this important poll indicate that there is little doubt that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has taken its toll on trichology services. The closure of Trichology clinics means many patients are currently suffering alone, with difficult and distressing hair and scalp conditions left untreated, often leading to poor mental health. The Institute of Trichologists is therefore committed to campaigning for registered practitioners to be given recognition as an essential medical service. The Institute looks forward to the imminent reopening of clinics so its practitioners can resume operations safely and responsibly in order to help alleviate the anxiety felt by many patients at these uncertain times.