NHS urges public not to let coronavirus concerns stop them seeking medical help as A&E visits drop by 50%

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger

The NHS is urging members of the public to seek medical care if they need it, despite coronavirus fears, after figures showed four in ten people are too concerned about being a burden to the health service.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock stressed to the public the importance of using the NHS not just for coronavirus issues, but for all urgent medical needs.

He said "it's absolutely critical" that people continue to use the service, for example "if you find something that shows you're at risk of cancer, or if you have symptoms of a heart or stroke, or if you have small children who have a medical problem".

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens warned of the long term health risks to people who put off getting treatment due to Covid-19 fears.

With attendances at Accident and Emergency departments on course to be one million lower than at the same point last year, Sir Simon set out to remind people the NHS is still there for patients with concerns aside from coronavirus.

It comes after data published by Public Health England suggests that attendances at A&E over this month are around 50% lower.

He stressed people must still seek urgent and emergency services for strokes, heart attacks, and other killer conditions.

Leading clinicians including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and charities such as the British Heart Foundation and Stroke Association have expressed concerns that people are risking their long-term health, and their lives, by delaying getting the help they need.

The NHS is also encouraging people to use other such as cancer screening and care, maternity appointments and mental health support.

The campaign from the NHS follows claims from an oncologist that60,000 cancer patients could die because of lack of treatment or diagnosis, owing to coronavirus.

The British Heart Foundation earlier in the month also reported a fall in 50% in the number of people attending with heart attacks, raising concerns that people are not getting the potentially life-saving care that is still available.

Sir Simon warned "ignoring problems can have serious consequences - now or in the future".

Sir Simon Stevens wants people to continue using the NHS. Credit: 10 Downing Street

He dismissed concerns that people may be unnecessarily using up NHS capacity, pointing to the freeing up of more than 33,000 beds, the equivalent of 50 new hospitals, in recent weeks.

He said: "So whether you or loved one have the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, are a parent worried about their child or have concerns about conditions such as cancer you should seek help in the way you always would."

"This significant increase in capacity, combined with effective social distancing by the public slowing the spread of the virus, has meant that the NHS has so far successfully been able to meet everyone’s need, with capacity to spare," he added.

Kirstie Latta is the mum of a four-year-old with underlying health problems. She delayed going into hospital over fears he would be exposed to coronavirus.

But charity WellChild encouraged her to seek help for son Michael through the NHS.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also been urging people to use the NHS if they need it.

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."

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Whilst many things right now are uncertain, one thing that we can be certain of is that heart attacks kill. If people put off seeking urgent medical help when they are having heart attack symptoms they put their life at risk.

“Also vitally important are the many thousands of people in the UK living with existing heart conditions, like heart failure, who will also need to be able to access care immediately if their condition worsens.

“Our message is clear, do not delay seeking help. If you are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack call 999 immediately."