Special investigation: The danger of avoiding A&Es

People are risking their lives by avoiding A&E departments during the coronavirus crisis, charities have warned.

Wednesday, 29th April 2020, 11:35 am
Charities said people may be risking their lives if they let the coronavirus crisis get in the way of an A&E emergency.

The pandemic has seen a dramatic fall in the number of patients going to emergency departments, official figures show, prompting growing concern among health chiefs.

The number of people attending East Riding Community Hospital was 1,954 (down 18%); Hull University Teaching Hospitals Trust saw 8,819 people at A&E (down 26%); Humber Teaching NHS Foundation Trust had 370 patients (down 35%) and York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust dealt with 13,034 people (down 25%), recent figures revealed.

In a recent Downing Street press conference, health secretary Matt Hancock expressed alarm at the decline in people going to A&Es.

He said: “If you are worried about chest pains, for instance, maybe you might be having a heart attack or a stroke, or you feel a lump and you are worried about cancer, or you are a parent concerned about your child, please come forward and seek help as you always would.”

This week the NHS in England has begun a new public information campaign to persuade people to use the health service when they need it.

Seeking medical help is one of the four reasons that people are allowed to leave home, in line with government guidance.

In Scotland, A&E departments have seen patient numbers drop by more than half (57%) in the four weeks to April 19, compared with the same period last year.

In Northern Ireland, there were half the patients at emergency departments in the first two weeks of April than there were in the same period last year.

And in England, attendances at A&Es fell by nearly a third in March, compared with March 2019.

NHS England expects there to be one million fewer patients this April than last - a drop of about half.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Consultant Cardiologist and Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We know that the number of people attending hospital with symptoms of a heart attack has dropped by 50 per cent, and the number of people attending with stroke has also fallen dramatically.

“Heart attacks and strokes are medical emergencies and treating them remains a top priority for the NHS.

“Research has led to several effective treatments for heart attacks, but if you delay, you are more likely to suffer serious heart damage and more likely to need intensive care and to spend longer in hospital.

“Delaying getting treatment for stroke could leave you with a disability that could have been avoided.

“People should not let fear of the coronavirus, or of being a burden to a hospital, deter them calling 999 when they suffer heart attack or stroke symptoms.”

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “Anybody who needs urgent help – including people experiencing heart failure and stroke or expectant mums worried about their baby – should absolutely come forward and seek help from their local NHS.

“There is no doubt that, as the chief medical officer said, coronavirus is putting more pressure on NHS services, but NHS staff are freeing up thousands more beds for critical care whilst also keeping other essential services running, so parents, relatives and anyone worried about their own health should continue to use their NHS.”

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