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Hospital admissions for serious illnesses fell by up to 90% during Covid first wave

Hospital admissions plummeted by up to 90 per cent for some of the deadliest conditions and illnesses during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, sparking fears that the government’s ‘Protect the NHS’ message home may have backfired. 

While Britons were told to ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ – a message used at the height of lockdown in April to discourage households from mixing – the number of heart attack checks reduced by almost half.

Heart disease, a major cause of heart attacks, is the UK’s leading cause of deaths. 

Meanwhile, consultations for the most common cancers also dropped by up to two thirds.

The figures, which come from analysis of data published in the Daily Telegraph today, have been described as ‘staggering’ by experts, some of whom warn the UK could see 35,000 more cancer deaths within a year as a knock of the pandemic.


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Others have warned that the government ‘must get the messaging right’, and urged those in need of medical treatment to speak to their doctor.

Consultations for the most common cancers dropped by up to two thirds, according to the Daily Telegraph

Admissions for breast cancer, which is the most common cancer in women , dropped by a third

Admissions for breast cancer, which is the most common cancer in women , dropped by a third

The research, by healthcare analysts Dr Foster, shows that during April and May, the height of the first coronavirus wave in the UK, there was a sharp drop in admissions relating to a number of diseases. 

The number of admissions for bowel cancer, which is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer, dropped by 39 per cent. Normally, 13,488 cases would have been expected, but there were 8,185 cases.  

Admissions for prostate cancer, the most common form of cancer in men, also dropped sharply. 

The drop took place while the government's initial 'Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives' was in place

The drop took place while the government’s initial ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ was in place

Around 12,850 cases would have been expected, based on a five year average. But the figure dropped by 64 per cent, to 4,640.

Admissions for breast cancer, which is the most common cancer in women , also dropped by a third.

The largest drop was in gastrointestinal disorders admissions, which were down 90 per cent. 

The drop took place while the government’s initial ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ was in place.

The slogan was announced as the country entered a national lockdown in March to encourage people to follow the rules, which initially included a ban on households mixing, while people were only allowed to leave their homes for essential journeys. 

The message was later changed to ‘Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives,’ as the government began to ease restrictions.

One GP, Doctor Amir Khan, has today said the reason many people may have stayed away from hospitals during the first wave of the pandemic was due to fears they would be a ‘burden’ on the already strained NHS.

But he stressed the importance of getting the message right amid rising Covid-19 infection rates, and urged those in need of medical treatment to speak to their GP.

One GP, Doctor Amir Khan, has today said the reason many people may have stayed away from hospitals during the first wave of the pandemic was due to fears they would be a ‘burden’ on the already strained NHS

Speaking today on Good Morning Britain, he said: ‘It’s a difficult one to get right. We are trying our best to get the message out that GP surgeries are open.

‘Those people who need to be seen will be seen.’

Lung cancer referrals down 50% ‘because patients believe their cough is Covid-19 and self-isolate instead of seeing a specialist’ 

Thousands of lung cancer patients may have gone undiagnosed because the disease’s symptoms are so similar to coronavirus, experts warned.

Urgent referrals for lung cancer – the most deadly form of the disease in the UK –  are down 50 per cent this year, according to Cancer Research UK.  

Common symptoms of the disease include a persistent cough, breathlessness and lack of energy, which are also signs of coronavirus. 

Experts fear lung cancer patients are waiting too late to seek treatment because they believe they might have Covid-19 and don’t want to spread it.  

People suspected of having coronavirus are told to self-isolate, avoid contact with others and order a test. But a shortage of swabs has meant many people are being denied a test and told to stay at home for 14 days just to be safe.

This is a critical time that could be spent screening for cancer, top oncologists and GPs said today. Catching lung cancer early is critical in boosting someone’s chance of survival.

Just one in three people diagnosed with the disease live for more than five years. But the survival rate is 60 per cent among those who receive an early diagnosis. 

Speaking about why patients stayed away during the lockdown, he said: ‘People were worried about being a burden on the NHS. They were also worried about coming into a clinical environment.

‘But if you are worried about any symptoms then you must speak to your GP.’ 

He also warned against the cancelling operations and procedures in order to facilitate extra Covid-19 patients, instead calling for more staff and funding for the NHS.

Meanwhile, Tom Binstead, director of strategy and analytics at Dr Foster, told the Telegraph that some of the figures were ‘staggering’ with falls seen ‘across the board’.

An NHS spokesman said: ‘At the height of the first Covid peak and lockdown, some people chose to postpone care, but since then hospital admissions have now rebounded, routine operations have more than doubled and cancer treatments are now taking place at well above usual levels.’  

It comes as it was revealed earlier this week that nearly 27million GP appointments have been ‘lost’ during the coronavirus pandemic, fuelling fears of a ticking time-bomb of cancer deaths.

NHS Digital estimates there were 26.7million fewer GP appointments in England between March and August this year than in the same period in 2019 – down from 146.2million to 119.5million.   

Cancer Research UK said more than 350,000 people who would normally have been urgently referred to a specialist to have vital tests to check if they have the disease have not been. 

The charity believes the delays could cause an additional 35,000 avoidable deaths at the hands of cancer.

Inspectors also fear that ‘lost’ appointments with doctors have led to a significant deterioration in patients’ health  and the worsening of other conditions such as asthma and diabetes.  

The statistics were revealed in a major report by the Care Quality Commission today, which warned of a ‘huge pent-up demand for care’ since the March lockdown. 

People have struggled to see a GP because of Covid-19 precautions that have moved a huge chunk of appointments online. Social distancing and strict cleaning rules mean family doctors can only see a fraction of the normal volume of patients in their practices.

Others have been scared off seeing their GP for fear of being a burden on the health service or catching Covid-19.

NHS Digital estimates there were 26.7million fewer GP appointments in England between March and August this year than in the same period in 2019 – down from 146.2million to 119.5million

NHS Digital estimates there were 26.7million fewer GP appointments in England between March and August this year than in the same period in 2019 – down from 146.2million to 119.5million

The NHS statistics show that even in August, when the country was enjoying a spell of no lockdowns and low transmission, GPs had 2.7million fewer appointments than in the same month in 2019.

Those figures include phone and video consultations, which made up almost half of appointments in August.

The watchdog said – as well as Covid-19 restrictions making it harder to get an appointment – many Britons were still fearful of using healthcare in case they caught the virus.

Top doctor shortage is risking ‘catastrophe’: Hospitals urgently need more consultants as they face huge backlog of treatment, medical union warns 

Hospitals are battling a ‘potentially catastrophic’ shortage of consultants, as they face a huge backlog of treatment because of the pandemic, the British Medical Association warns today.

Consultants are retiring early because of their workload, poor morale and controversial pension tax rules which cause senior doctors to lose out financially when they take on extra work.

The BMA says the workforce needs to be urgently increased, if waiting lists and times are to be reduced, amid rising burnout and sickness absences.

The doctors’ union has collaborated with seven medical royal colleges and the Faculty of Intensive Medicine on a report looking to understand why consultants are seeking early retirement and a growing number of younger doctors are walking away from a career in the NHS.

The report states that Covid-19 has added ‘significant additional pressure’, creating a huge backlog which is likely to increase in the coming months.

But even before the pandemic, six out of ten consultants intended to retire at or before the age of 60, under pressure from a heavy workload and bureaucracy, among other factors, a BMA survey found.

Dr Rob Harwood, chairman of the BMA consultants committee, said: ‘Consultants feel progressively more ground down by an ever-increasing workload and progressively less appreciative employers, so they choose to retire at an earlier stage than otherwise they might.’

The BMA is recommending measures such as bringing in more medical students and trainees, making proper use of retired doctors returning to the profession and making sure staff can seek support for their mental and physical health.

Dr Harwood said: ‘It is crucial that our recommendations are thoroughly considered, and detailed plans are drawn up to address this crisis both for now and in the future. Without that, we risk creating an NHS that no one wants to work in, the consequences of which are potentially catastrophic.’

The Department of Health said: ‘We now have record levels of consultants in the NHS – over 2,000 more than last year and over 14,000 more since 2010 – with this workforce group growing faster than any other. However, we are working to increase these numbers even further.’

 

Experts have previously said that the Government’s successful ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ slogan was so powerful that it had started to become a detriment because people were still in the mindset of trying to avoid burdening the health service.

Dr Rosie Benneyworth, chief inspector of primary care at the QCC, said: ‘We know there has been a reduction in cancer referrals and that is likely to have an impact longer term on people getting appropriate cancer diagnosis and treatment.

‘We know that people sometimes haven’t had their long-term conditions followed up, and that is likely to also have a long term impact. It’s really important that actually all the needs of the people are met, and not just the people with Covid-19.’ 

CQC chief executive Ian Trenholm added: ‘As as the country locked down, the number of GP appointments fell significantly. And there was a very, very definite move towards non face-to-face appointments, be that on the telephone or video and online. 

‘If looked at across the whole of the year, the number of lost GP appointments translates into millions of people potentially not seeing their GP, not getting conditions diagnosed early enough, not getting those referrals on for diagnoses like cancer, and other conditions.’

The CQC praised the way GPs adopted innovation and technology to move consultations online, but warned that such approaches were inappropriate for many patients.

Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, said: ‘There is now a huge and growing backlog of people who need NHS care, which has built up because of the pandemic.’

But Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, stressed that 400,000 patients were being seen face to face every day. 

The professor added: ‘GPs and their teams worked incredibly hard from the start of the pandemic, changing the way they deliver services in order to keep patients as safe as possible, stop the spread of the virus, and allow staff to continue working, delivering patient care.’  

It comes after a Cancer Research UK report on Monday found up to 3million people have missed out on cancer screening for all forms of the disease since the end of March. 

And more than 350,000 people who would normally be urgently referred to hospital with suspected cancer symptoms weren’t. 

The charity fears up to 35,000 extra deaths may be caused because hospitals cancelled virtually all procedures, including check-ups and operations, to cope with the coronavirus crisis when it first struck in the spring.

But the worry figures come amid increasing reports of hospitals cancelling non-urgent operations following a rise in coronavirus infections.

Several hospitals are expecting a surge in Covid patients, leading to the cancellation of operations which have already been delayed for six months.

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, for example, said it was temporarily pausing non-critical planned surgery at Derriford Hospital, although day case procedures are still going ahead.

And Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Steve Warburton told staff in a memo that it had reached a ‘critical point’ and would be scaling back planned procedures.

It comes as daily coronavirus deaths could reach up to 690 this month, scientists have warned as ONS data recorded a 50 per cent weekly rise in infections.

The Medical Research Council biostatistics unit at Cambridge University presented Sage with the bleak forecast as they published new predictions on how fast the virus is spreading.

They estimate that 47,000 people in England are contracting Covid-19 every day, with cases doubling in under seven days.

Hospitals are cancelling non-urgent operations as the number of coronavirus outbreaks in the healthcare sector doubles in two weeks. University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (file image), for example, said it was temporarily pausing non-critical planned surgery at Derriford Hospital, although day case procedures are still going ahead

Hospitals are cancelling non-urgent operations as the number of coronavirus outbreaks in the healthcare sector doubles in two weeks. University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (file image), for example, said it was temporarily pausing non-critical planned surgery at Derriford Hospital, although day case procedures are still going ahead

 

‘Honestly, it’s a nightmare telling these patients they are going to have to wait again,’ a heart surgeon who works in the northwest of England told The Times. 

A critical care nurse in Lancashire added: ‘We’re absolutely packed… I don’t even want to think about where we’ll be in two weeks’ time.’ 

It comes as Britain recorded its highest number of coronavirus deaths for more than four months on Saturday after another 150 victims were announced.

Department of Health statistics show this many deaths haven’t been registered since June 10, when 164 lab-confirmed fatalities were added to the toll.

Health chiefs also posted another 16,171 cases yesterday, up only six per cent on the figure recorded last week in a potential sign that the UK’s coronavirus outbreak may be slowing down.

Meanwhile, public health officials in Leeds said hospitals in the city were now ‘very close’ to having to cut back on non-Covid services.

The huge demand in services was forcing clinicians to consider ‘how to save the most lives, directly or indirectly from Covid’ one said.

Just days ago, the Royal College of Surgeons of England warned there could be a ‘tsunami’ of cancelled operations this winter as the NHS struggles to cope with a second wave of coronavirus.

The cancellations will add to the growing backlog – with more than 4.2million people on the waiting list and 110,000 of these having waited for over a year.

However, tens of thousands of NHS staff are absent from work because they are infected with Covid or they have to self-isolate. 

NHS England’s medical director recently warned hospitals in the North West and North East could end up treating more patients than they did during the peak of the first wave of Covid-19.

Professor Stephen Powis said the NHS remained open for all patients but keeping coronavirus infections under control is the key to other patients getting the treatment they need.   

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