NHS remains 'open for business' to non-coronavirus emergencies

16 April 2020, 18:27

Professor Chris Whitty urged people to use hospitals if they need them
Professor Chris Whitty urged people to use hospitals if they need them. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The NHS remains "open for business" for people with life-threatening injuries not related to coronavirus, the Chief Medical Officer for England has said.

Professor Chris Whitty was speaking alongside Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance at the government's daily coronavirus press conference.

The CMO was asked about the issue of spare beds and excess capacity on non-Covid wards in hospitals.

It is widely believed that fewer people are heading into emergency departments suffering from other medical conditions, with staff suggesting the public are too scared.

However, Prof Whitty addressed the issue in the briefing, urging people to continue to use A&E departments as usual if they need them.

"If you have a medical emergency," he said, "the NHS is open for business and we really must encourage people who are having life-threatening problems to go to hospital."

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It comes as Mr Raab announced the UK would continue lockdown measures for at least another three weeks. They will stay in place until 7 May, when a further review would be required by law.

Any adjustments to the lockdown could lead to a second peak of the virus, the foreign secretary warned, causing further damage to public health and the economy.

There are concerns that people failing to admit themselves to hospitals could lead to further issues down the line and cause further deaths, he added.

"It is really critical for people to realise that if they are having a medical emergency, such as a heart attack, a stroke or a really bad flare-up of asthma ... they must go to hospital."

The CMO said the British public have managed to take the pressure off the NHS by staying at home, but they should not risk their own lives by remaining indoors if they are ill.

He said NHS 111 was still open for people to use where necessary: "What would be very sad to have is a situation where people's activities and the NHS had managed to preserve the ability to do emergencies but people weren't coming forward."

Slides from the press conference showed a comparison of UK deaths with other countries
Slides from the press conference showed a comparison of UK deaths with other countries. Picture: Cabinet Office

Prof Whitty said experts were examining the risks of an extended lockdown leading to non-coronavirus deaths or illness.

Those included medical procedures being postponed to help the NHS focus on Covid-19 and the economic impact of the lockdown.

He said: "We know that anything that increases deprivation can, in the long run, cause issues.

"We are absolutely looking at how these work and how they interact, because in the next phase of this we need to take account of all of those, rather than just think about the direct Covid deaths.

"Because if we just thought about those we could end up having a much less targeted approach and one that didn't allow the NHS to respond properly to all these other, indirect, causes."

Sir Patrick said: "At the moment this is not a tension between the economy and health, it's very clear what we need to do now, which is to keep this down, stop this from coming back again, stop a second wave, which would need a second lockdown."

But he added: "We do absolutely look at those long-term consequences and modelling that and thinking about what the implication of that is."

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