After six full weeks in lock down with a six year old, I’ve stopped counting how many times I have shouted: “Be careful! This is NOT the time for us to make a trip to A&E!”

Being at home around the clock with children is ongoing battle for all parents, but my daughter seems to have a knack for rattling my nerves as she climbs trees, attempts tricks on the trampoline and brushes up her gymnastics skills in the garden.

But, it’s not just the potential injuries that worry me, I simply don’t want to have to take my child into a hospital during the coronavirus outbreak – exposure to Covid-19 just feels too great.

And it seems that I’m not the only one crippled by this fear: according to The Guardian attendances in A&E departments across the country are down, in some cases by up to 80%.

But accidents aside, I’m aware that it is surely a matter of time before my daughter or I need the advice of a GP for a health concern that is not related to the outbreak.

Though, recently I have wondered if I would I be less likely to seek medical attention now unless it was incredibly severe? Probably – at least for myself anyway.

Yet, while the worried mother in me is nervous of unnecessary exposure, the practical part of me suspects that this could have negative impact on our health: a very treatable illness can soon spiral out of control if left too long.

In fact, this happened to a friend of mine who tried to manage her four year old’s symptoms at home due to Covid-19 concerns, only to have her health deteriorate so severely that after ten days her child was admitted to hospital for a week with complications from tonsillitis. So, her bid to avoid a 15-minute GP appointment ultimately led to seven full days in the paediatric unit. Suddenly, the doctor’s surgery felt a better option.

So, imagine my delight when an email from my insurance broker appeared in my inbox this week to remind me of the value-added benefits available to me due to my income protection and critical illness policies. It turns out that these remote services on offer may bridge this healthcare gap – and it doesn’t cost a thing.

What is available?

Income protection policies are designed to cover you in times of hardship and to make sure there is enough money available to keep food on your table and a roof over your head. While critical Illness Insurance pays out a tax-free lump sum if you’re diagnosed as critically ill.

I took out both policies in my late twenties via the broker, but I’ve always overlooked the other benefits that come with these.

It turns out that my policy with Legal & General, for instance, means that I have access to it’s GP 24/7 offering, which gives me remote access to a General Practitioner, anytime day or night.

While my policy from Royal London offers Helping Hand, a telephone emotional care and guidance service provided by trained nurse advisers for issues such as bereavement, carers, mental health and trauma – all for free.

“The NHS is wonderful and I’m forever grateful for everything it has done for me and my family but it’s resources are stretched thin at the best of times, and amid the Covid-19 outbreak, it’s even worse.” commented Kathryn Knowles from Cura.

“For people that have insurances like income protection, life insurance, critical illness cover, I strongly recommend checking if your insurer offers these extras,” she said.

“Even if they weren’t there when you first took the insurance out, you could have access to medical support that you’re not aware of.”

And people are using these services more than ever before – and it’s easy to see why.

The Exeter, for instance, reported that it had witnessed a 169% increase in monthly registrations of its HealthWise app and a 527% increase in usage of its remote GP services, compared to the same month last year.

Of those using remote GP services, nearly a quarter (24%) reported having COVID-19 symptoms. In addition, the insurer has seen an increase in members calling due to anxiety and depression.

Plus, for most of these value-added benefits, your partner/spouse and your children will also be covered and there is no limit on how many times you can access this service or how long your consultation must last.

“I have used these services for family while we have been in the UK and abroad and it’s meant we could bypass NHS wait times, been given quick access to prescriptions and expedited referrals to specialists when needed,” said Knowles.

“It really puts my mind at ease knowing that if I need medical help for my family, I have support close to hand – especially during times like these.”

What’s on offer, depends on your insurance provider, but you may be surprised what support you have access to – so have a look now to see what you could be missing.

Let’s face it, as many GP surgeries are potentially closed to walk-in patients or facing other pressures, getting a routine doctor’s appointment has become harder than ever before.

So who wouldn’t want the help and advice of a registered GP, and all via video link from their smartphone, all from the safe confines of our own home?

One of the key learnings from the Seven Families project, which followed seven families who had lost their income because of an illness or accident and gave them income protection for a year, including all the additional benefits, found that the support services were often considered by the families to be just as important as the money.

For me, the peace of mind is priceless.

Think of the long game

Being on lockdown has not been easy for anyone. The prolonged periods of isolation coupled with financial worries and anxiety about the global pandemic can have a major impact on one’s mental health. Ironically, recourse to support on the already struggling NHS are lacking due to the the current strain on the healthcare system.

Yes, there are mental health charities available for those in crisis, but ordinary support services can be difficult to access at the best of times, let alone now as the number of those in need rises.

What’s more, having access to benefits such as physiotherapy, counselling and mental health support helps reduce the burden on the NHS at a time when resources are stretched to the max, allowing the health service to rightly focus on more pressing matters of reacting to the current global crisis.

”For many, the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has been a physically and emotionally challenging period,” said Steve Casey, marketing director at SquareHealth, the specialist health technology solutions provider.

“At a time where visiting local GPs, physiotherapists and nutritional experts is not possible, technology is playing a vital role in supporting policyholders through unusual circumstances.”

What’s more, if you are able to seek treatment now, you will help prevent a wave of cases rolling in when the worst of the pandemic has passed.

Just think of all those people who are avoiding medical treatment during this time, all the cancelled appointments and postponed procedures – how with the healthcare system cope with the surge in patients post outbreak?

So, if your insurer offers a service that provides an at-home course of physiotherapy you need not put off treatment.

What’s more, it may even mean that you nip the problem in the bud and when the health service is back to “normal”, you may not need treatment – or their resources.

“We can all agree our NHS is something to be protected, and through our HealthWise services we are aiming to help ease some of the pressure on these front-line workers through the provision of remote GP services and helping members to positively manage their physical and mental health during this challenging period,” said Steve Bryan, director of distribution & marketing at The Exeter.

Financial Protection: How much is enough?

If you don’t have income protection insurance or critical illness cover, it is not too late. But how much cover is enough? And how much is it going to set you back each month?

A good rule of thumb should be enough to pay any bills and provide money so your family will be financially secure.

Like any insurance, it is crucial that you shop around before you purchase a policy.

Never assume that your bank will offer you the best deal as many are usually tied to just one provider and can be very expensive.

Policies are priced according to your age, general health and the amount you want to receive if you must make a claim.

When calculating how much cover you need, it makes financial sense to consider all the monthly outgoings you pay every month.

As well as your mortgage, rent or loan commitments, you must include those everyday essentials such as council tax, utility bills and the weekly food shop. Fail to do so and you could still end up in debt trying to meet your other commitments.

Also bear in mind that we are all living longer so it is crucial to think past traditional retirement age or your mortgage term when taking out a protection policy to ensure that you don’t come up short.

It is also worth considering the changing state pension age as it increases for both men and women to 66 by October 2020. It will rise again to 67 between 2026 and 2028.

The good news is that it is not going to break the bank – often less than the cost of a monthly gum membership.

It may be tempting to opt for a critical illness policy instead of income protection in a bid to cut costs, but be careful.

While these types of insurance policies complement each other, they do different things and cover different risks so it is important to carefully consider both before making a purchase. If you have a heart attack, for instance, and return to work after six months, a critical illness policy would have paid the lump sum, where income protection payments would stop when you go back to work – if you go back at all.

Tips to bring down premiums without scrimping on cover

The good news is that as with any financial product, whether your mobile phone contract or your home insurance, there are ways to bring down costs, without compromising on the level of cover.

Always choose a policy that insures your “own occupation” – so, if you are unable to do your own job – rather than any work at all because they fall ill, you will still get a payout.

Luckily, this type of cover, while offering better protection, may not be costlier as it is factors such as age, smoking, occupation, length of policy and amount of cover that determines the premium.

Be completely honest in your answers to all the questions on the application, for example your medical history, otherwise the policy could be worthless.

You might feel that you are over sharing, but if you hold something back it could really affect whether the insurer pay out in the event of a claim.