NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens warned that delays in getting treatment due to coronavirus fears pose a long term risk to people’s health. The plea comes alongside new findings that four in ten people are too concerned about being a burden on the NHS to seek help from their GP. Seeking medical help is one of the four reasons that people can safely leave home, in line with government guidance.
And Sir Simon stressed that the NHS is still there for patients without coronavirus who need urgent and emergency services for stroke, heart attack, and other killer conditions. While NHS staff have worked hard to put in place measures allowing people to access care safely – such as splitting services into Covid and non-Covid – attendances at Accident and Emergency departments are so far on course to be one million lower this April than last.
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.
A new 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 of 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.
- NHS Capacity Increased: An unprecedented deal with the independent sector has put their 8,000 beds and 20,000 staff at the NHS’ disposal, and seven Nightingale hospitals have been rapidly set up around the country, providing over 3,500 more beds to help local hospitals ensure all those who need care can get it.
- NHS Has Capacity to Spare: This significant increase in capacity, combined with effective social distancing by the public slowing the spread of the virus, has meant that the NHS has so far successfully been able to meet everyone’s need, with capacity to spare.
- Kids Get Sick: If your child is unwell the NHS is there for you. If you’re worried, please get in touch with your GP, use NHS 111, or in serious cases come and see us in hospital. Children are unlikely to be unwell with Covid, but they do get sick and when this happens we want to see them.
- A&E Visits Halve: In April 2019 there were over 2.1million attendances at A&E departments in England; data published by Public Health England suggests that attendances over this month are around 50% lower.
- Heart Conditions: The British Heart Foundation earlier in the month also reported a fall in 50% in the number of people attending with heart attacks, raising concerns that people are not getting the potentially life-saving care that is still available.
- Strokes: If you suspect that you, or someone you’re with, may be having a stroke don’t hesitate to seek medical help. Think FAST: Face, Arms, Speech – it’s Time to call 999. A stroke is a medical emergency as is a mini-stroke. Don’t dismiss it as ‘just a funny-turn’. The quicker you’re diagnosed and treated for a stroke, the better your chances of making a good recovery.”