United Kingdom,

Health on the Shelf – Brits put wellbeing on hold for the holidays


Tis the season to be jolly, but Brits are taking this adage a step too far, putting off addressing potentially serious health issues throughout Christmas.

  • Brits de-prioritise health for Christmas, ignoring issues from 12 December to 2 January
  • Festivities trump health concerns, with Christmas shopping, visiting friends and food shop ranking as higher priorities than wellbeing
  • And a significant number of people ignore potential cancer symptoms during the holidays

According to Bupa UK data, Brits prioritise almost everything but their health for most of December. Christmas shopping (19%), visiting family and friends (18%), and food shop (13%) rank higher up the ‘to-do list’ than seeking medical advice for health concerns (2%).

Overall, two in three people (66%) admit to putting their health on the backburner throughout the Christmas period until early in the New Year. Almost three in 10 (28%) adults would ignore muscle pain and cancer symptoms such as an unexplained lump.

An unexplained lump can be a red flag, while many people are also ignoring other health concerns which could be symptomatic of cancer. Three in 10 (31%) people are ignoring unexplained tiredness and a quarter of people are pushing aside concerns of a persistent cough (26%).

And it’s not just physical concerns that people delay seeking advice for over the festive period. The research shows that people also ignore symptoms of mental health conditions in the lead up to Christmas, with three in 10 also saying they would ignore symptoms of anxiety, including having trouble sleeping, tiredness and irritability. A third of Brits also admit that they would ignore symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, including feeling low and hopeless.

Data from Bupa’s telephone self-referral service – Direct Access – shows a significant fall in consultant bookings for cancer (-64%), mental health (-21%) and musculoskeletal (-39%) in December compared to other months of the year.

In the run up to the festive period, people can feel time-poor due to the number of seasonal social commitments and activities. Many people (39%) feel it’s too hard to schedule an appointment in the lead up to Christmas. However, a similar number (33%) think that the festive break itself will solve their health problem, choosing to ignore any issues and hope they go away.

Dr Luke James, Medical Director at Bupa UK Insurance, said: “The Christmas period is often a busy time for people, both at home and at work so things inevitably drop off the to-do list. When it comes to our health, an early diagnosis is key to aiding recovery and can significantly improve outcomes. So regardless of the time of year, I would always recommend that someone seeks medical advice if they experience any unexplained and persistent symptoms.

“We launched our Direct Access service to make it more convenient for customers experiencing symptoms of cancer, mental health or musculoskeletal issues seek help without needing a GP referral.”

About the research

Opinium Research surveyed 2,003 UK adults (18 and over) between 30th November and 3rd December 2018.


About Bupa’s Direct Access Service

Bupa’s Direct Access is a telephone self-referral service which allows health insurance customers to book an appointment with a cancer, mental health or musculoskeletal specialist without the need for a GP referral.

About Bupa

Bupa's purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives.

With no shareholders, our customers are our focus. We reinvest profits into providing more and better healthcare for the benefit of current and future customers.

We serve 15.5m health insurance customers, provide healthcare to over 14.5m people in our clinics and hospitals and look after over 22,000 aged care residents.

We directly employ over 78,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Poland, Chile, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the USA, Brazil, the Middle East and Ireland. We also have associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.

Health insurance accounts for the majority our business. In some markets we also operate clinics, dental centres, hospitals, and care homes and villages.

For more information, visit www.bupa.com.