The number of people attending hospital for life-threatening illness such as heart attack, strokes and cancer has plummeted throughout 2020. In the period March – June 2020 admissions to hospital for non-Covid related conditions were 173,000 less than the previous year.

When breaking this down further there were almost 137,000 fewer cancer admissions and nearly 6,000 fewer admissions for heart attacks. There were also reductions for patients suffering strokes, diabetes, dementia, mental health related conditions and eating disorders.

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck the UK in March 2020 the NHS was put under extreme pressure with uncertainty as to how they would manage the rapidly escalating numbers of people suffering with coronavirus. Many routine appointments and operations were postponed at short notice and with no known date as to when they would be able to resume ‘normal’ practices.

In addition to the pressures faced by the NHS themselves it can be said that patients were reluctant to contact their GP’s or attend Accident & Emergency Departments. Whether this be through fear of contracting coronavirus themselves or not wishing to add to the burden faced by an already struggling NHS. The illnesses referred to above were clearly still happening but were potentially not diagnosed and treated promptly due to the correct treatment being inaccessible.

GP surgeries have changed the way in which they now see patients. Many GP’s have adopted a telephone or video call triage service for patients thus limiting the need for patients to attend surgery. This has however led to difficulties in people getting through to make appointments and are left feeling the service is inaccessible.

Doctors are now being urged to start seeing patients face-to-face once more amid concerns that vulnerable patients are struggling to access phone and online appointments. GP practices have been told that they need to remind patients that they can attend appointments if they need to, and they are not to be sent directly to A&E.

There are signs of recovery within the NHS and treatments are beginning to increase once more. Cancer patients have been able to commence treatment but the numbers are still down on the same time last year. The delays on being able to access treatment and the long term impact of this are not yet known. It will take a long time to become clear what implication these delays have had on the prognosis of patients who went untreated in 2020.

Cancer Research UK Chief Executive Michelle Mitchell commented in respect of the numbers 'Sadly the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on cancer services and the lives of cancer patients and we're still not even close to knowing what the long term repercussions could be.’

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation and a Consultant Cardiologist said ‘These troubling statistics again show us that people have delayed seeking are for their heart attack, risking death or long-term heart damage’.

The message from the NHS has remained clear throughout the pandemic for those suffering with worrying symptoms and NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: 'Our NHS message to the public throughout has been – don't delay, help us help you by coming forward.’

It will take time for the NHS to clear the backlog and the increase in Covid-19 cases reported recently may impact this recovery. For some routine treatment a delay may not necessarily cause further problems but for those with suspected cancer or other progressive illnesses, the delays may have concerning and life changing implications.

Our specialist clinical negligence team is experienced in supporting and advising people who have suffered avoidable injury due to poor standards of medical care and delayed or inappropriate treatment. If you believe that yourself, or a loved one, has experienced harm as a result of poor care, we may be able to assist you.

Please contact a member of our national team for a free, confidential discussion:-

Karen Reynolds, Partner (Derby/Stoke on Trent/Birmingham/Manchester/Liverpool) on 0845 274 6830

Carolyn Lowe, Partner (Oxford/London/Bristol/Milton Keynes) on 0186 578 1019

Jane Williams, Partner (Nottingham/Leicester/Sheffield/Leeds) on 0845 272 5724

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