Effects of the COVID-19 lockdown on the healthcare experiences of medical crowdfunders in Aotearoa New Zealand
Robinson, Ella; Wardell, Susan
New Zealand went into a strict, nation-wide lockdown at 11:59pm, on Wednesday the 25th of March 2020, in an early effort to stem community transmission of – and later, eliminate – COVID-19. This lockdown was justified by protecting public health, but it also involved a variety of rapidly-implemented changes to standard healthcare delivery and access, including access to medical facilities and personnel, postponement of many routine or non-urgent procedures, and move to ‘virtual’ consultations wherever possible. Literature has established that studying the growing phenomena of medical crowdfunding can be a useful way to examine systemic inequality, and precarity, within different national healthcare systems. In the context of dramatic (though temporary) changes to healthcare delivery during lockdown, we consider crowdfunding as a way to understand the experiences of those who were already unwell or fell ill (with non-COVID-related illnesses) during this time, as they engaged with these systems. The data is drawn from a larger research project on medical crowdfunding in New Zealand, which happened to be collecting quantitative data directly after the return to Level 1, and covering campaigns that had run prior to and throughout Levels 4, 3, and 2. We asked the following question: In what ways did medical crowdfunding campaign narratives reveal some of the effects of New Zealand’s pandemic response on the healthcare experiences of those already living with health needs, during the 2020 lockdown? We approached this question through a qualitative analysis of 50 medical crowdfunding campaigns which mentioned COVID-19 as part of their narratives. The majority (74%) of these campaigns were for people experiencing illness – the remaining (26%) were for those with injuries; differences or disabilities; mental health needs; seeking gender-affirming healthcare; and other. Campaigns were often co-constructed by the recipient and a third party. Campaigns sought mainly support with general living expenses during illness (including rent, bills, travel costs, childcare, etc) with a minority of campaigns fundraising directly for medical treatment or equipment. The findings convey how campaigns narrated institutional change (including delays or cancellations, the impacts of travel restrictions on access to healthcare, backlogs in the healthcare system, and the change to virtual consultation), economic impacts that also affected the ability of people to support themselves during periods of illness (including job or income loss, and change to fundraising plans), and wider effects on wellbeing (in terms of changes to social support systems, and pressures on mental health). We lay out some conclusions about the value of and possibilities for crowdfunding as a window into the pressures and precarities various people within New Zealand faced, during this time. In particular the campaigns we studied went against trends noted in other campaign studies, to directly address the entanglements between personal states of health, and personal healthcare needs, and wider political, bureaucratic, and economic, systems and structures. Gaps in existing systems, and populations who were unevenly affected, can be identified through studying crowdfunding patterns, and crowdfunding narratives. The need for continuing critical attention to the state’s actions, even in times of crisis, is emphasised. We suggest some directions for future research that develops the critical, theoretical, and applied potential of this approach and this data.
Rights Statement: Copyright to the authors, and the University of Otago. Open access; please cite appropriately.
Keywords: COVID-19; crowdfunding; health; medical; lockdown; wellbeing; healthcare
Research Type: Technical Report