Emergency department attendances tumble during pandemic

People with symptoms of strokes or heart attacks are staying away from emergency departments, but are urged to attend if they need to

Picture shows the entrance to an emergency department. People with symptoms of strokes or heart attacks are staying away from emergency departments due to fears of COVID-19 or to avoid straining NHS.
Picture: iStock

Emergency department (ED) visits fell by nearly one third in March compared with a year earlier, while the number of people seeking help for suspected heart attacks almost halved, figures show.

The revelation prompted health leaders to urge the public to seek emergency help if they need it during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of 1.53 million attendances in England were recorded in March 2020, down 29% from 2.17 million in March 2019.

Admissions to emergency departments also show sharp fall

It is the lowest number for any calendar month since current records began in August 2010.

Admissions to EDs also showed a sharp fall in March year-on-year, down 23% to 427,921 from 555,457.

NHS England, which published the figures in early April, said the fall was likely a result of the COVID-19 response – an indication that people have been staying away from EDs due to the pandemic.

Suspected heart attack cases down by half

Separately, data from Public Health England (PHE) showed that the number of people seen in hospital with a suspected heart attack has halved since the beginning of March.

The British Heart Foundation said thousands of people with heart attack symptoms may be apprehensive about visiting hospitals due to fears over coronavirus or to avoid adding to strain on the NHS.

‘Go to hospital just as you always have done’ 

The PHE figures, released on 2 April, show the number of people attending emergency departments with symptoms of a possible heart attack fell from an average of around 300 per day at the beginning of March to around 150 per day recorded by the end of March.

NHS England national medical director Stephen Powis encouraged people to go to EDs ‘just as you always have done’ if they had symptoms of a stroke or heart attack.

Speaking at a Downing Street news conference he said: ‘They are there for you, and although we are focusing on coronavirus it’s important we continue to focus on other emergency conditions.’

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