NHS can 'definitely still handle' other medical emergencies despite coronavirus outbreak

30 April 2020, 18:27

Professor Chris Whitty said there were “worries” that people were avoiding A&E because of fears around Covid-19
Professor Chris Whitty said there were “worries” that people were avoiding A&E because of fears around Covid-19. Picture: PA

By Megan White

The NHS can "definitely" still deal with other medical emergencies despite the coronavirus outbreak, the Chief Medical Officer has said, encouraging the public to still seek treatment if necessary.

Professor Chris Whitty said there were “worries” that people were avoiding A&E because of fears around Covid-19.

He also acknowledged concerns about deaths from other causes increasing because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Prof Whitty told the daily government press briefing: "It's not just cancers, we are very concerned that there has been a fall away in people coming to accident and emergency... with things like strokes and heart attacks.

"They must be going on, and one of the worries we have is people are thinking 'I can't go to the NHS because it can't deal with these emergencies' - it definitely can."

He added that non-emergency services in the NHS would be "switched on in a responsible way" to ensure that delays are minimised.

Boris Johnson said: "I can certainly say that when it comes to urgent cancer care, people will get the treatment that they need."

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.

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.

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.

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A 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.

On Saturday, National Medical Director for England Professor Stephen Powis also 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."

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."