Impact of COVID-19

Assessing the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic (the pandemic) on organisations is complex, but some insights can be found by examining comments organisations record in the Online Services Report (OSR) collection about changes in their activity levels prior to and during the pandemic.

The analysis on this page focuses on changes to the activities of organisations as seen through the OSR collection. Information that provides context about the impact the pandemic had on indicators contained in the nKPI collection, such as influenza vaccination, can be found in PI14 (immunised against influenza) and the forthcoming Australia’s Health 2022.


To assess the impact of the pandemic on the activities of organisations, a dataset was created which included only the 161 organisations with no identified data issues that reported to the OSR in all 3 of the most recent periods, spanning:

  • pre-COVID-19—the 2018–19 OSR
  • start of COVID-19—the 2019–20 OSR (noting, however, that only the final quarter 01 March–30 June 2020 would have been affected)
  • full year of COVID-19—the 2020–21 OSR.

This dataset included 3 variables capturing organisational activity levels (number of clients, client contacts, episodes-of-care), along with comments recorded by the organisations to explain variations in these data (recorded for those with a 20% or more increase or decrease between periods). For some items (such as clients and episodes of care) the validation rules look at the total only. For others (such as client contacts), there are validation rules for the total and the individual components which comprise the total (for example, values for Indigenous females). For the purposes of this analysis, the focus was on changes in the high-level totals, but other relevant comments are included if they applied to a particular component and were related to COVID-19. For each of the 3 organisational activities, the dataset was used to examine:

  • aggregate changes across the 3 periods
  • the percentage change at the organisational level between the periods, by categorising organisations into whether they had a greater than 20% increase or decrease in their values (or whether the variation was less than 20%)
  • whether those organisations with more than a 20% change from the previous period cited COVID-19 as a reason.

While these data provide some insight, it must be noted that assessing whether changes in the activities of organisations are directly or indirectly related to the impact of the pandemic is complex and has some limitations because:

  • OSR data are for 12 month periods and cannot be disaggregated within that (for example, by quarter)
  • pandemic related restrictions and outbreaks varied across geographic areas and time periods
  • some amount of change across reporting periods is normal and may be unrelated to the pandemic (for example, an organisation may open a new clinic site or may improve their internal data recording processes).

As such, caution should be used when interpreting results for the selected organisations, especially over time. Caution should also be used when extrapolating the results for selected organisation to the full data that includes all reporting organisations in each period (see also Technical notes). Summary information about the included organisations, as well as those who were excluded, are included in Characteristics of included and excluded organisations and in the supplementary data tables (see Data).

This analysis indicates that the pandemic did have an impact on organisations. For example, for the selected organisations:

  • the indirect impact led to a decrease in the number of client contacts and episodes of care delivered because of factors such as lockdowns (which also affected whether face-to-face services were available and whether clients felt comfortable using them), staffing issues, and the recording of telehealth consultations
  • the direct impact of having to pivot services towards COVID-19 testing and/or vaccinations meant an increase in clients or services delivered, while for others it meant fewer available resources for direct primary care activity.

While the results on this page are for selected organisations only, some inferences can also be cautiously made about changes in the full data (that is, data for all reporting organisations). For example, comments recorded for the selected organisations may explain, at least in part, some of the overall changes seen in the Indigenous status of clients since the start of the pandemic. For such data, however, it is difficult to be definitive and it is likely that a combination of factors affected the results. For example, variation may reflect: changes in organisation or client behaviour as a result of the pandemic (such as reluctance of clients to attend or use telehealth; or restrictions on travel for clients and staff); the voluntary nature of reporting for those periods (and the associated decrease in the number of reporting organisations); or general changes in the types or characteristics of reporting organisations (for example, the organisations reporting to the collection vary each period, an organisation may close or open a site, or an organisation may change their internal data recording processes). See also Technical notes.

Included and excluded organisations

Of the 218 organisations in-scope to report in 2020–21:

Based on information provided to the Department of Health, the main reasons cited by organisations that did not report in 2020–21 were related to:

  • the additional pressures on organisations as a result of the pandemic, such as lockdowns and the vaccination push
  • other priorities
  • staff not trained, for example, staff turnover resulting in staff who are not familiar with the data process.

The characteristics of the organisations contained in the analysis dataset (included organisations), as well as those excluded from analysis (excluded organisations), provide important context for interpreting the results on this page, as well as when applying these result to the full reporting dataset. Further information on the characteristics of these organisations is included in the supplementary data tables (see Data).