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Childhood adversity linked to how we engage with healthcare services

Published: 30 April 2024

New research by Bangor University and Public Health Wales has found that adults who suffered childhood adversities such as child maltreatment or living in a home with domestic violence, report lower engagement with healthcare services.  

Childhood experiences can influence health, wellbeing and behaviours across the life course, and exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can increase people’s risks of adopting health-harming behaviours and developing physical and mental ill-health.  

The research surveyed 1,696 adults in England and Wales and found that individuals who had suffered four or more ACE types were over two times more likely to report low comfort in using hospitals and GP and dental surgeries, than those with no ACEs. People reporting four or more ACEs were also over three times more likely to perceive that professionals do not care about their health or understand their problems. People with four or more ACEs were also one and a half times more likely to report that they were currently taking prescription medicines and to also report poor adherence to taking medication as instructed, than those with no ACEs.   

The findings are significant considering that ACE-attributable costs across nine risk factors and causes of ill health in England and Wales were £42.8 billion in 2017. 

Commenting on the results, Dr Kat Ford at Bangor University said,  

“With around half of the population experiencing at least one ACE in childhood, it’s vitally important that healthcare providers are aware if support can be tailored for individuals who have experienced ACEs to help improve their engagement in healthcare services.” 

Professor Karen Hughes, Research and Development Manager (Specialist Projects) at Public Health Wales added,  

“ACEs can increase people’s risks of poor health throughout life and consequently their need to engage with health services. However, ACEs can also affect how people respond to stress and their trust in others, which may influence their perceptions of health services and advice. The development of trauma-informed health care services may help to improve people’s relationships with health professionals and adherence to public health guidance.”