Concern over patients avoiding emergency care

RECORD low attendances at emergency departments in England over the month of March have led to concerns that people with serious health problems are not seeking emergency care out of fear of COVID-19.

NHS England has reported that the number of attendances in March 2020 was 29.4 per cent down on the same month last year. It commented that this is the lowest number of attendances reported since collecting began and is likely to be a result of COVID-19 fears.

President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Katherine Henderson said: “We are concerned that this drop in attendance may mean that people with serious health problems are avoiding going to their emergency department for fear of getting coronavirus.”

It was also reported that a total of 2,962,751 calls were made to NHS 111 in March 2020, more than double the number of calls from the same month last year – but despite this increase fewer people were advised to attend A&E and fewer ambulances were dispatched.

Tim Gardner, Senior Policy Fellow at the Health Foundation, commented: "This suggests that many of those who might have attended A&E previously could be seeking clinical advice elsewhere, and that 111 is playing a critical role in advising people on how to access care. On the face of it, this may indicate that people are following the official advice to try to avoid going straight to A&E.

"It is important that people continue to stay at home as much as possible to slow the spread of the virus, reduce pressure on the NHS, and enable the service to tackle COVID-19 by treating those who are most seriously ill. However, people should continue to feel able to seek treatment for serious conditions and further work is needed to understand who is not coming to A&E and whether unmet needs are being stored up for the future."