Hospital consultants and GPs are concerned that delays in getting treatment due to coronavirus fears pose a long term risk to people’s health.
The plea comes alongside findings that four in ten people across the UK are too concerned about being a burden on the NHS to seek help from their GP. Here in Cornwall adult attendances for major illness and injury at the county’s main Emergency Department are down by 50% and the number of children being brought in for serious conditions is down even more, by almost 80%.
“It’s a really big worry for us,” said Emergency Department Consultant, Dr Toby Slade.
“Whilst we know that some of the reduction will be down to people doing less sport and other activities during lockdown, it won’t account for all of the people we’d normally expect to see. We want everyone to know we are still here for patients without coronavirus who need urgent and emergency services for stroke, heart attack, and other life-threatening conditions.”
Toby added: “We have put in place measures allowing people to access care safely – such as splitting our Emergency Department into Covid and non-Covid areas – so people should not be afraid to come to see us if they have an urgent problem. If they’re not sure if it’s something that needs a hospital visit, they can check online at nhs.uk or call 111. Just don’t put off something that could be serious.”
Dr Sian Harris, Consultant Paediatrician, and her colleagues share the concerns for children.
“If a child is seriously ill it is vital not to delay in seeking medical help. We are prepared and ready whether a child has a Covid infection or any other urgent medical problem. If they can, we recommend parents use the Handi App – available to download free on App stores – to help them decide when then need to get help, or to go online or call 111 for advice. If they are worried about very serious symptoms, always call 999.”
Seeking medical help is one of the four reasons that people can safely leave home, in line with government guidance.
Some leading clinicians including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and medical health charities such as the British Heart Foundation and Stroke Association have expressed concerns that people are risking their long-term health, and their lives, by delaying getting the help they need.
This is echoed by local GPs who are concerned that people are putting off making appointments even though they might be worried about symptoms that could be signs of cancer or other serious illness.
Tony Shaw, a GP at Chacewater Surgery, said: “I understand that during this difficult time people may have some fear of coming to their GP. I want to reassure people that your GP will provide you with safe and effective care. Please do not ignore worrying symptoms that could be an indication of a serious or even life-threatening illness such as a heart attack, stroke or cancer. ”
He said GPs are working in new and different ways to respond to the outbreak, offering secure telephone, online, and video consultations, to help keep patients safe at a time of social distancing, with face to face appointments if required.
Tony added: “In my own practice our Primary Care Network of four practices is working together to transform part of Chacewater surgery into a clinic for people with suspected coronavirus symptoms. Our three neighbouring practices supported this by opening a clinic for everyone who is non-Covid and ultimately making sure 30,000 patients continue to receive a service from their GP when they need it.
“Fortunately we have so far seen very small numbers of people with suspected covid symptoms, and we are in the process of reducing the size of the Covid clinic, which will mean Chacewater will also have a non-Covid area. People using the surgery’s Covid clinic will continue to be seen separately and will have access to different parking and entrance to non-Covid clinic. As a Primary Care Network we will continue to have the ability to expand the Covid clinic if it’s required.”
“If you are worried about your health- don’t ignore it. Your GP surgery remains open and is there to help you access whatever care you need. Whatever your circumstances- whether you are housebound or shielding – we can work together to find the best and safest way to look after you,” added Tony.
A national public information campaign – including digital adverts, posters and social media featuring NHS staff – will be rolled out next week to persuade people to contact their GP or the 111 service if they have urgent care needs – or 999 in emergencies – and to attend hospital if they are told they should.
As well as encouraging people to seek help for urgent health needs, over the coming weeks the NHS will take steps to encourage people to use other vital services – such as cancer screening and care, maternity appointments and mental health support – as they usually would, by demonstrating how frontline teams are delivering them safely.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens 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.
“So whether you or loved one have the symptoms or a heart attack or stroke, are a parent worried about their child or have concerns about conditions such as cancer you should seek help in the way you always would.
“Ignoring problems can have serious consequences – now or in the future.”
For information on the full range of NHS services available across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, including minor injury units, pharmacies and GPs, go to https://www.kernowccg.nhs.uk/get-info/choose-well/