Medic says lack of action to address drop in non-COVID emergency attendances “deeply concerning”

A senior medic has said the lack of action taken to address the drop in non-COVID-19 emergency attendances at hospitals nationwide is “deeply concerning”.

Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said clinicians had been raising concerns for the past three weeks about people with a range of conditions – including pneumonia, heart attacks, strokes and pulmonary embolism (blood clots) – not seeking help soon enough.

He called on health leaders to launch a national effort to address the problem, with attendances at A&E departments dropping by up to 50 per cent and reports of patients waiting five or six days before seeking urgent treatment due to fears around coronavirus.

“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,” said Dr Scriven.

“Clearly it is right that so much emphasis has been placed on people following the national advice to stay home and help prevent the spread of coronavirus, however, there is a responsibility to also balance that messaging appropriately.

“That, as of yet, hasn’t happened and it has been left to independent bodies to raise these concerns, but given the potential for significant harm, it requires central leadership and partnership working with representative bodies and patient groups.

“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 ot access their usual primary care services or have had outpatient clinic appointments cancelled by hospitals.”

Dr Scriven also urged people to “refrain from military rhetoric” to describe the efforts to limit the spread and impact of COVID-19.

“I really don’t feel terms such as fight, battle and war are helpful to anyone – in fact, I think they exacerbate people’s fears and probably fuel the “batten down the hatches” mindset which is being taken to far in some cases,” he explained.

“This sort of language can be extremely upsetting for families of those who have sadly died during this pandemic somehow implying it was the person’s fault.

“All our staff are working tirelessly and going far beyond what could ever be expected of them to look after people with this virus, so we don’t want to see those efforts undone in any way by the neglect of other possible serious illness which is a concern right now.”

Acute medicine, also known as acute internal medicine, deals with the immediate and early treatment of adult patients with a variety of medical conditions who present to hospital as emergencies.

The specialty receives the majority of patients admitted from A&E and plays a vital role in maintaining the flow of patients through emergency departments.