Two-thirds of Britons would put off seeing a GP in case they were told they had a serious illness, research has found.
Another third of adults would delay making an appointment in case they were lectured into changing their lifestyles.
The trend is more common among the middle-aged – particularly those who are overweight and inactive.
Academics say this ‘fear of finding out’ tendency poses a considerable threat to public health.
Two-thirds of Britons would put off seeing a GP in case they were told they had a serious illness, research has found (file photo)
They warn too many adults have adopted a ‘fatalistic’ attitude towards illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia.
The survey of 2,500 adults was carried out by the Patients Association, University College London and think-tank 2020health.
It found that 61 per cent would consider delaying making an appointment for fear of being told they had a serious illness.
A further 32 per cent said they would think about putting off a consultation in case they were told to change their lifestyles.
Dr Carmen Lefevre, from the Centre for Behaviour Change at UCL, said: ‘Fear can be a major psychological barrier preventing adults from investigating health concerns … Whether it is a fear of being examined, or a fear of receiving a diagnosis, it is causing people to put off seeking medical attention when it is needed and consequently, in some cases, this can result in late diagnosis for serious health conditions such as cancer.’
An analysis of previous studies by 2020health last year found that middle-aged adults and those with unhealthier lifestyles were more likely to put off making an appointment.
Another third of adults would delay making an appointment in case they were lectured into changing their lifestyles (file photo)
Researchers said smokers, heavy drinkers, those with unhealthy diets and the obese were all less likely to want to hear bad news about their health. Poorly educated individuals were also more likely to ‘bury their heads in the sand’.
Among the other ‘fear barriers’ that kept people away from the doctors were fears of being physically examined, clinical investigations, hospitals, appearing weak and fears that treatment may lead to sexual dysfunction.
Those who delay seeking medical help are also less likely to value their health, often feel less in control of it and are less likely to believe that screening is effective.
Earlier this month the Mail highlighted how many men with symptoms of prostate cancer were avoiding seeing their GP, because they were too embarrassed.
Research by the University of Bath found that many were reluctant to be examined or speak to receptionists about sexual problems.
Last night Sir Muir Gray, from Oxford University’s Department of Primary Care Services, said: ‘The later people leave it to see a doctor with the symptoms of a long-term health condition, the worse their outcomes may be and, potentially, the greater the cost of their treatment and social care.
‘A lot of publicity has been given to the rising demands made of GPs, and the overuse of primary care by people who benefit little. But the other side of the coin has received hardly any … the under use of services by people who would benefit greatly.’
The problem of patients ignoring their symptoms is being confounded by the fact it is increasingly difficult to see a GP. Many surgeries are under severe pressure due to a shortage of GPs coupled with rising demand.