The NHS is launching a new campaign to make sure people seek urgent care during a medical emergency after visits to A&E dropped by almost 50 per cent this month.
Health officials are worried many people are not seeking treatment because they fear contracting Covid-19, thereby jeopardising their survival and potentially becoming collateral damage to the virus.
Recent research found four in 10 people are too worried about being a burden on the NHS to seek help from their GP.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens stressed the NHS is still there for non-Covid patients who might be suffering from a stroke, heart attack, and other killer conditions.
It is predicted there will be one million fewer visits to A&E this April compared to 2.1 million visits recorded over the same period last year.
Ambulance paramedics wearing personal protective equipment help a patient from an ambulance into The Royal London Hospital
Prof Powis said there were concerns about fewer people seeking medical help for non-coronavirus related issues.
Asked if lives are being lost because people are not presenting themselves to doctors, he told BBC Breakfast: ‘It would be true to say we are concerned about that.
‘Clearly we have seen the reduction in A&E attendances.
‘If everybody is self-isolating, there may be less infections being transmitted other than Covid-19.
‘What we absolutely want people to do is if you do have a condition, particularly an emergency that is not coronavirus, you should not be afraid of accessing healthcare services.’
Senior clinicians from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and medical health charities such as the British Heart Foundation and Stroke Association are also worried.
The new public health campaign will be rolled out from next week reminding people to contact their GP or call 111 if they need urgent care, and attend a hospital if they are told to do so.
Those in an emergency must still call 999.
It also calls upon Britons to use other vital services such as cancer screening and treatment, maternity appointments and mental health support as normal.
Sir Simon 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.
‘Ignoring problems can have serious consequences – now or in the future.’
Here, in a picture supplied to The Mail by a member of the public, is the Royal London Hospital A&E waiting room at 4pm on Saturday afternoon
Due to efforts to ramp up capacity in the face of the coronavirus threat, the NHS now has 33,000 urgent care beds at its disposal in traditional hospitals.
The NHS has also overseen the construction of seven new Nightingale field hospitals around the country.
The campaign will include information from doctors, nurses and patient groups to highlight how the health service has adapted to the pandemic to ensure safe access to all types of urgent care.
Professor Carrie MacEwen, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said: ‘We are very concerned that patients may not be accessing the NHS for care because they either don’t want to be a burden or because they are fearful about catching the virus.
‘Everyone should know that the NHS is still open for business and it is vitally important that if people have serious conditions or concerns they seek help.’
The British Heart Foundation has reported a 50% fall in the number of people attending A&E with heart attacks, thereby risking their survival.
Earlier this week, Cancer Research UK warned 2,250 new cases of the disease could be going undetected each week – partly down to patients’ reluctance to go and see their GP.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also voiced his concern.
Britain’s National Medical Director of the National Health Service (NHS), Prof. Stephen Powis, holding a digital press conference on the ongoing pandemic of the COVID-19 disease
Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, he said: ‘If you are told to go to hospital, the place you need to be is in hospital.
‘The NHS is there for you and can provide the very best care if you need it.’
It comes as the government is facing calls for greater transparency over the scientific advice given to ministers on the coronavirus outbreak.
Downing Street angrily dismissed claims the advice could be politicised following the disclosure Boris Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings had been attending meetings of a key scientific group.
Opposition parties, however, said political advisers had no business attending the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and called for its deliberations to be opened to wider scrutiny.
The row came as the coronavirus lockdown was entering its fifth weekend with fears that the expected warm weather for much of the country may see people ignoring social distancing rules.
More than 19,000 people have now died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK, with many more deaths expected in care homes.
Meanwhile, it emerged that talks have been taking place between ministers and the Premier League on re-starting the football season once the Government decides the conditions for easing the lockdown have been met.
The controversy over Sage – which will advise ministers on the lifting of the restrictions – came after The Guardian reported that Mr Cummings and Ben Warner, a data scientist who worked with him on the Vote Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum, had been present at Sage meetings.
Downing Street denied they were members of the group and said they were simply seeking to better understand the science involved and how it could inform government decision-making.
‘Sage provides independent scientific advice to the government. Political advisers have no role in this,’ a No 10 spokesman said.
‘The scientists on Sage are among the most eminent in their fields. It is factually wrong and damaging to sensible public debate to imply their advice is affected by government advisers listening to discussions.
‘Public confidence in the media has collapsed during this emergency partly because of ludicrous stories such as this.’
However, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the disclosure raised ‘significant questions’ about the credibility of Government decision-making.
‘Dominic Cummings has no place on the Government’s scientific advisory group on the coronavirus,’ he said.
‘He is a political adviser, not a medical or scientific expert. If the public are to have confidence in the Sage, the Government must make clear Dominic Cummings can no longer participate or attend.
‘We also need full transparency on who is attending meeting of Sage what is being discussed.’
Key workers have spoken of their frustration after places for a coronavirus test ran out within just an hour of the site opening today (pictured, a testing site in Surrey today)
Some 5,000 home kits and 19,000 drive-through tests were expected to be made available on Saturday – with key workers asked to fill out an online application form as the government races to hit its 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday (pictured, a testing site in London)
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has been in talks with the governing bodies of a number of major sports, with football expected to be the first to get the green light to resume matches behind closed door.
It is understood that detailed discussions have been taking place with medical officials from Public Health England on the criteria that would have to be met for games to go ahead.
A Government spokesman said: ‘Ministers continue to work with sports governing bodies on how live sporting events can resume in the future.
‘This can only happen once we have passed the five tests for easing social distancing measures.’
The Government has also given the go-ahead for a clinical trial to establish if plasma from the blood of recovered coronavirus patients could help treat others fighting the illness.
The treatment would involve the ‘convalescent plasma’, donated from the blood of people who have recovered from the virus, being transfused to patients who are struggling to produce their own antibodies against the illness.
Convalescent plasma was used as a treatment during the Sars outbreak.
Thousands of people are also expected to try to book a coronavirus test on the Government’s new website again on Saturday, after tests ran out soon after it went live on Friday.
Some 46,000 people tried to book a test, with more than 10 million key workers and their households now eligible for one as the Government races to hit its 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday.
Under the expansion, NHS and social care staff, police officers, teachers, social workers, undertakers, journalists and those who work in supermarkets and food production are among those now eligible.
But within two minutes of the website going live at 6am on Friday, all 5,000 tests for people to do at home had been booked, while more than 15,000 appointments for tests at drive-through centres were also taken quickly.
The Department of Health said a total of 19,506 patients had died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Thursday, up by 768 from 18,738 the day before.
Britain’s deserted hospitals: Cancer victims forgotten, vital operations cancelled and ghost town A&Es where patients fear to tread – a devastating exposé of how those WITHOUT coronavirus are shamefully left behind
By Sue Reid for the Daily Mail
The photographs show the deserted casualty departments at two of our biggest hospitals.
They were taken in the daytime amid the lockdown ordered by the Government to fight the lethal virus Covid-19.
In normal times, the waiting room at the Royal London, in the East End’s Whitechapel, would be busy with 500 patients walking in from the streets to see a doctor every 24 hours.
Yet, as the photo below – taken on a Saturday afternoon – shows, the place is empty.
Not a chair filled, no one at the vending machine, and the usual queue at the reception desk non-existent.
The person who took the picture, a Mail reader and medic, said the image was deeply worrying.
‘A tragedy is unfolding because people are scared of catching the coronavirus if they set foot in a hospital,’ she explained.
‘They are staying at home even if they have serious illnesses and this will cost countless lives. Where are all those with heart attacks and strokes? No one is coming here.’
This is the St Thomas Hospital, in central London, A&E waiting room at 4pm last Friday afternoon. The picture was supplied by a member of the public
It is a concern shared by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who this week urged non-coronavirus patients requiring urgent care to seek help immediately. He said: ‘The NHS is there for you.’
He was speaking in the House of Commons after doctors and medical charities warned of a hidden health crisis among non-Covid patients who, it is feared, could die in their thousands.
A frightened public are avoiding accident and emergency departments for fear of the virus, or of overburdening the NHS.
The number of people presenting at A&E with suspected heart attacks has halved since the beginning of March, from 300 to 150 a day.
It is estimated that as many as 5,000 people normally expected in casualty in the same time period have simply not turned up.
At the same time, routine hospital treatments and investigations such as cancer screening have been suspended while resources are diverted in the fight against Covid-19.
One of Britain’s most experienced cancer doctors, Karol Sikora, warned in the Mail this week that our healthcare system has abandoned its ‘bread and butter’ work of routine operations, tests and scans.
Cancer Research UK has warned that 2,700 cancers a week are currently going undiagnosed.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens stressed the NHS is still there for non-Covid patients who might be suffering from a stroke, heart attack, and other killer conditions
In addition, ambulance emergency response times are their worst on record, causing heart attack victims to wait two hours on average, sometimes with fatal consequences.
And on top of all this, many who are seriously ill and awaiting life-saving operations or treatment are being turned away by doctors who fear their patients may catch the virus on the wards of our beleaguered hospitals.
Organ transplants, for example, have fallen dramatically. Last spring more than 80 a week were carried out.
Now just a handful of the most urgent heart and liver cases are being operated on weekly, as surgeons shy away from putting patients in intensive care units close to highly-infectious Covid-19 sufferers.
The tragic result is that across the UK, we are seeing a dramatic increase in deaths from illnesses other than the virus.
And because so many people are not being diagnosed with serious ailments, there will be many more in the future.
The Office for National Statistics last week revealed that deaths in England and Wales in the week to April 10 were the highest for 20 years. Of course, much of this was due to the virus.
But nearly 1,800 of these additional fatalities were not caused directly by it. Doctors have described the phenomenon as the ‘collateral damage’ of Covid-19.
So who are the victims of this hidden health crisis?
The Mail has spoken to critically ill patients who are now waiting desperately for treatment to save them.
They do not blame those struck down with Covid-19, but many believe our overstretched NHS has abandoned them in their hour of need.
One is 32-year-old Lara Wahab, an advertising agency executive, who is awaiting an organ transplant at a specialist Oxford hospital.
Lara, who lives with her sister in north London, suffers from Type 1 diabetes and has had the condition since she was seven.
Lara Wahab, 32, an advertising agency executive, is awaiting an organ transplant at a specialist Oxford hospital
In April last year she was told that her kidneys were failing and was put forward for a simultaneous kidney and pancreas transplant.
It involves waiting for a deceased donor who would need to be the perfect match for both organs.
Waiting for the phone call for matching organs was like living on a knife’s edge, she says. But then, she adds, came ‘the plot twist: coronavirus’.
One day, she logged on to her patient portal and found her transplant status had been changed from active to suspended because of the ICU bed shortage caused by the virus.
She is now in limbo and urging the Government ‘not to forget’ patients like her in the battle against coronavirus. ‘I want the public to know that we are also the fallout of a virus like this,’ she says.
But Lara is just one of many caught out in what can only be described as a nightmare.
Duncan McLean, a father of two from Stevenage in Hertfordshire, has been battling aggressive bladder cancer and was due to have an operation on May 1.
The 39-year-old has already had a total of 33 tumours removed in hospital surgery.
Duncan McLean, a father of two from Stevenage in Hertfordshire, has been battling aggressive bladder cancer and was due to have an operation on May 1
He explained this week: ‘I was told that my operation would be going ahead. Then I got a call two days later from an NHS call centre telling me it was cancelled because of the virus.
‘It was followed with a letter from the consultant at my hospital, the Lister in Stevenage, confirming it was being pushed back six or eight weeks “subject to how the coronavirus progresses”.
‘My cancer has grown faster and I’m panicking as it now has free rein in my body. Common sense needs to prevail. When the virus has left us, we will have people who were not given medical help and had their lives put at risk.
‘The virus is horrific, but people are still having strokes and heart attacks. You can’t just stop their treatments. There are hundreds of hospitals across the UK. Why don’t they designate at least one without corona patients to deal with people like me?’
Desperately worried, too, is Ben Hurd, a 33-year-old from Barnsley in South Yorkshire with an aggressive brain tumour who needs chemotherapy to shrink his cancer.
‘The doctors say there may be other patients with the virus on the transport they lay on to take me to the hospital in Sheffield, an hour away, for the treatment. I cannot go any more in case I catch it from them,’ he explains.
Ben, a care home chef who lives at home with his parents, is being advised by the charity Brain Tumour Research, which says that patients are being thrown into a ‘world of uncertainty’ because of the coronavirus crisis.
Last May Ben started getting headaches and flashing lights in his left eye.
A scan revealed lesions in the brain and he was operated on over seven hours that month as an emergency.
The operation removed most of his tumour, but sadly not all of it.
He has been told he has 12 to 18 months to live.
The only thing that might turn the tide is the chemo treatment for which he needs regular blood checks at the hospital.
‘They talk about me getting back to the doctors at the end of May, but for now I can only keep my fingers crossed,’ he says.
Yet another patient cruelly facing a transplant delay in the pandemic is Ana-Rose Thorpe, from Manchester, who has lived with the liver complaint hepatitis since contracting it as a baby.
The 29-year-old’s liver is now failing as she awaits a new donor organ.
She feels ‘swept aside’ as her treatment is put on hold because she may get the coronavirus if she goes to hospital even for tests.
‘The longer I am not being monitored, the longer I leave it, I could get sicker,’ she says.
Ana-Rose Thorpe, from Manchester, 29, has lived with the liver complaint hepatitis since contracting it as a baby
‘Going into hospital with corona patients makes me terrified I could catch the virus. It’s a matter of my life or death.’
But it is not just hospitals that are restricting NHS treatment. The public themselves are reluctant to go to A&E because they are scared of contracting the virus.
An 80-year-old, Marita Edwards, is thought to have been the first person to die from catching the disease in a British hospital.
Mrs Edwards, who had no underlying health conditions, went into Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport, South Wales, in late February for a routine gallbladder operation.
She later developed an infection, which was thought to be pneumonia. She died after testing positive for Covid-19 three weeks on from arriving at the hospital.
Mrs Edwards is not the only person to have died from the virus after catching it in hospital. Little wonder people are becoming terrified of going into them.
A Mail investigation over several weeks shows how casualty departments have emptied dramatically.
Up and down the country, the Mail has found that hospital A&Es that struggled to cope last winter with astronomically high numbers are now deserted.
At the Royal Stoke University Hospital in Staffordshire, where in 2018 disturbing photos showed casualty patients lying on beds in corridors, we discovered that the casualty arrival rate of 11,000 a month has plummeted.
Official figures released on the hospital’s website this week showed that on Wednesday, when we checked figures over 12 hours, there were never more than 30 patients waiting for treatment.
In the past it might have run into hundreds. It was the same low tally at other hospitals and walk-in centres in the city.
But perhaps the most revealing evidence, sent in by a second reader, is a photo showing the waiting room at St Thomas’ Hospital, central London, where Boris Johnson’s life was saved with oxygen therapy when he caught coronavirus.
Across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament, the hospital’s casualty department is normally packed.
On a Friday afternoon, just after the lockdown was announced last month, our picture reveals there was just one man there waiting to see a doctor.
As an emergency nurse at the hospital told the Mail: ‘The staff are here. They wait in vain for patients.
‘We are facing a deep suspicion from British people who have always trusted the NHS.
‘We are worried that the relationship of trust between the public and the health service is being broken.’
The Covid-19 crisis is, indeed, terrifying. Thousands today lie in our hospitals fighting against the deadly Covid-19.
But the truth is that many others may lose their lives because of it. And they will never even have caught the killer virus that is changing the world we know.