More than 15,000 people avoid A&E during coronavirus lockdown

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Ips

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals Pictures: ARCHANT - Credit: Rachel Edge

A&E visits in Suffolk and north Essex have plummeted since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown – with more than 15,000 people avoiding emergency departments.

Attendance for major illnesses has fallen by 60% year-on-year at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, and is down by nearly 50% at the West Suffolk Hospital, according to NHS data.

In April last year, more than 22,000 people attended A&E across the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals. This year, that number had fallen to just over 10,000.

MORE: Hospital chief ‘surprised’ by lack of consultation over face mask requirement for all staffTotal visits to West Suffolk’s A&E fell from 6,729 to 3,542, bringing the overall decrease in patients across all three hospitals to 15,315.

It comes as Dr Angela Tillett, ESNEFT’s chief medical officer, moved to reassure patients who are worried about coming into hospital during the outbreak.

Dr Angela Tillett, ESNEFT'S medical director, has moved to reassure patients Picture: ESNEFT

Dr Angela Tillett, ESNEFT'S medical director, has moved to reassure patients Picture: ESNEFT - Credit: ESNEFT

“I would really like to reassure our patients that it is safe to come to hospital,” she said.

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“We’ve changed the hospital clinics and the wards so that we can make sure patients with infections or possible Covid-19 are cared for separately to other patients.

“There are strict infection control measures in place so that we can keep everybody safe.”

The trust’s chief executive Nick Hulme recently urged people to come to A&E after feeling “alarmed” over a significant drop in visits. Attendance for major A&E – which includes the most serious illnesses, such as heart attacks and strokes – was down 60% from 16,818 in April 2019 to just 7,282 this year at ESNEFT.

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Visits to West Suffolk fell by 45% from 6,295 last year to 3,423.

MORE: Hospitals would have been overwhelmed by virus without extra ITU bedsMeanwhile, people attending A&E at Ipswich and Colchester for minor injuries has fallen by just under a half, going from 5,394 last April compared with 2,802 this year.

West Suffolk saw just 114 people go to A&E for minor injuries in April 2020, down from 434 in 2019.

Full data for May is not available yet, but the April data gives an insight into how lockdown has changed people’s visiting habits.

MORE: All the latest coronavirus news where you liveDr Tillett said people should not feel worried about visiting the hospital for appointments, tests, or planned surgery.

She added: “It’s really important that you come to hospital if your doctor has asked you to, so you receive the right care, and it’s particularly important because we don’t want you becoming more seriously ill because you’ve delayed seeking medical attention.”

Last week, Mr Hulme warned cancer patients who were too scared to get symptoms checked out by their doctor during the peak of coronavirus will die because of the delay in diagnosis.He added: “The message ‘protect the NHS’ may have been misunderstood by swathes of the general public who think that by staying away from the NHS and their GP they are protecting them.

“They may be but clinically the risk of not having urgent care or coming forward when you may have something wrong with you is much greater than the risk of acquiring Covid-19 in a healthcare setting.”

Social distancing measures are in place within hospitals and patients are now required to wear a mask within grounds, following an announcement by health secretary Matt Hancock on Friday.

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