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People with serious conditions like pneumonia, heart attacks, strokes and blood clots may not be seeking help soon enough, as visits to A&E in Essex dropped to their lowest level in almost five years.
There were 44,296 A&E visits at hospital trusts covering Essex in March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold – the lowest monthly number since the figures began to be recorded in June 2015.
The number was down by almost 30 per cent compared to the 62,778 visits in March 2019.
The steepest drop was seen in East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, covering all NHS hospitals in Colchester, Ipswich, Clacton, Halstead, Harwich, Felixstowe and Aldeburgh, where there was a 37 per cent drop in A&E admissions from 22,960 to 14,554.
Mid Essex saw a 23 per cent drop from 9,464 to 7,246, while PAH saw a 26 per cent drop from 9,367 to 6,945.
Basildon saw a 27 per cent drop from 11,905 to 8,712 and Southend saw a 25 per cent drop from 9,082 to 6,839.
The number of emergency admissions from A&E have also dropped to 12,998, down by almost a fifth compared to 15,813 in March 2019.
However, the number of emergency admissions as a proportion of all attendances has risen to 29.3 per cent, compared to 25.2 per cent a year before.
President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Katherine Henderson, said the healthcare system is still “open for business”, and A&Es were taking precautions, such as separate areas for treating non-Covid-19 patients.
She 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.
“The response to the coronavirus outbreak by the NHS has been superb; capacity has been ramped up at pace and we’ve seen an increase in staff.
“The most important thing the public can do at the moment is to stay indoors and follow the government’s advice.
“But do seek medical help if you need it – don’t stay at home with a heart attack out of fear.”
Across England, there were 1.5 million visits to A&E in March, down almost 30 per cent compared to the 2.2 million visits in March 2019.
Dr Nick Scriven, former president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “As Covid attendances have gone up, non-Covid attendances have reduced drastically and there has been growing concern among clinicians about people feeling sick at home but not coming to hospital as they are frightened and then coming to harm.
“We need to ensure people are aware hospitals have planned and are managing Covid-19 as best they can and that urgent and emergency services remain open for all patients who are seriously unwell and maybe unable to access their usual primary care services or have had outpatient clinic appointments cancelled by hospitals.”
Across England, the number of emergency admissions from A&E have also dropped to 325,787, down by more than a fifth compared to March 2019.
This means that the number of admissions as a proportion of all attendances has risen to its highest level on record, at 21.3 per cent.
That compares to 19.2 per cent of attendances leading to admissions in March 2019.
Deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said: “The figures released today show that in March there was a significant drop in A&E attendances, likely because people are thinking carefully before going in.
“We absolutely support the advice to stay at home unless necessary, but it is vital that those patients who need it still access emergency care.”