Big fall in patients attending A&E as coronavirus outbreak sees NHS 111 calls soar
- Credit: RACHEL EDGE/STEVE PARSONS/PA WIR
Thousands fewer patients attended A&E at two of East Anglia’s major hospitals last month, raising questions people could be staying away over coronavirus fears.
In total, 13,209 people visited the emergency departments at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals in February, a fall of 2,117 from the previous year when 15,326 people attended.
That's down almost 15% on last February, and there was an extra day this leap year.
Meanwhile, the number of patients attending A&E at West Suffolk Hospital in February was up on the previous year, with 5,890 people - but down on the monthly average of around 6,200 patients.
Neill Moloney, managing director of East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), which runs Colchester and Ipswich hospitals, did not say the decline in patients is due to the virus.
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Mr Moloney said: 'We have worked very closely with all our clinical teams and system partners to make sure we can see and treat people as quickly as possible within our Emergency Departments and the Urgent Treatment Centre, which opened at Colchester Hospital in October last year.
'The decrease in patients being treated in the Emergency Department follows the opening of the Urgent Treatment Centre at Colchester Hospital. Ipswich Hospital's Urgent Treatment Centre is due to open next year.'
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Waiting times at ESNEFT also reduced, with 84.9% of people waiting more than four hours to be seen - an improvement on last month's figure of 81.1%.
Mr Moloney said achieving the national target of 95% remains 'very important' to the trust.
Spike in 111 calls
It comes as the number of calls to 111 from people in Suffolk and Essex rocketed in recent weeks.
There were nearly 21,000 calls made to the advice line in the week ending March 1.
That's up 20% compared with the week before, when there were 17,513 calls, and up 31% from 16,026 in the same week last year.
The massive jump in demand means more callers are having to wait longer than a minute to speak to an advisor.
Just under 50% of calls from patients served by Suffolk and north east Essex were answered within 60 seconds.
An NHS spokesman said: 'NHS staff are working round the clock to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, with 111 services dealing with over 120,000 more calls than the same week last year.
'That's why we're already recruiting 500 additional initial call responders to answer up to 20,000 more 111 calls every day, with further staffing increases in train, providing a new online service which can provide advice at the touch of a button, and boosting the availability of clinical advice for those who need it.'
There were 590 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Thursday (March 12), with one person from Suffolk and six people from Essex testing positive, according to the Department of Health.