Coronavirus: Public urged to seek urgent care amid 'concerning' fall in A&E visits

25 April 2020, 10:53

The NHS is urging people to continue using the service despite fears over coronavirus
The NHS is urging people to continue using the service despite fears over coronavirus. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

People must seek urgent medical care when needed and not be put off by the coronavirus outbreak, say "concerned" NHS bosses.

The advice comes after visits to Accident and Emergency departments dropped by 50 per cent this month amid worries that people are not attending because they fear contracting Covid-19.

On Saturday morning, National Medical Director for England Professor Stephen Powis urged people to continue using the NHS, especially if they have an emergency.

When asked whether lives are being lost because people are not visiting A&E departments or seeking help from doctors, he said: "It would be true to say we are concerned about that.

"Clearly we have seen the reduction in A&E attendances.

"If everybody is self-isolating, there may be less infections being transmitted other than Covid-19.

"What we absolutely want people to do is if you do have a condition, particularly an emergency that is not coronavirus, you should not be afraid of accessing healthcare services."

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People should not be put off visiting the NHS during the coronavirus outbreak
People should not be put off visiting the NHS during the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: PA

The NHS is set to launch a new campaign to make sure people seek urgent care during a medical emergency because of the fall in A&E numbers.

Bosses in the service fear people are jeopardising their health and are at risk of becoming collateral damage of the coronavirus.

Four in 10 people are worried about becoming a burden on the service and will therefore not seek help from their GP, according to recent research.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens stressed the NHS is still there for non-Covid patients who might be suffering from a stroke, heart attack, and other potentially lethal conditions.

There were 2.1 million visits to A&E recorded in April last year, whereas it is predicted there will be one million fewer visits in the same month this year.

The new public health campaign will be rolled out from next week reminding people to contact their GP or call 111 if they need urgent care, and attend a hospital if they are told to do so.

Those in an emergency must still call 999.

It also calls upon Britons to use other vital services such as cancer screening and treatment, maternity appointments and mental health support as normal.

Sir Simon said: "While NHS staff have pulled out all the stops to deal with coronavirus, they have also worked hard to ensure that patients who don't have Covid-19 can safely access essential services.

"Ignoring problems can have serious consequences - now or in the future."

The campaign will include information from doctors, nurses and patient groups to highlight how the health service has adapted to the pandemic to ensure safe access to all types of urgent care.

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Professor Carrie MacEwen, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said: "We are very concerned that patients may not be accessing the NHS for care because they either don't want to be a burden or because they are fearful about catching the virus.

"Everyone should know that the NHS is still open for business and it is vitally important that if people have serious conditions or concerns they seek help."

The British Heart Foundation has reported a 50 per cent fall in the number of people attending A&E with heart attacks, thereby risking their survival.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "If you are told to go to hospital, the place you need to be is in hospital.

"The NHS is there for you and can provide the very best care if you need it."