Patients are heeding the warning to stay away from North Staffordshire’s main accident unit – after thousands of patients stopped going there for treatment.
Latest figures show just 16,076 A&E visits were made to centres run by University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust last March.
And that compares with 22,829 accident unit visits in March 2019.
The data includes A&E visits to the Royal Stoke University Hospital and Stafford’s County Hospital as well as attendances at the emergency eye clinic, walk-in centres, minor injury units and the urgent care centre.
The drop-off in attendances is expected to be even greater in April because the Government lockdown restrictions only started on Monday, March 23.
The latest A&E restrictions – which have seen all non-urgent treatment moved from the Royal Stoke to Burslem’s Haywood Hospital – came into force on Monday, March 30.
North Staffordshire Healthwatch leader Ian Syme said: “March and April are normally one of the busiest times of the year – so the Stay at Home initiative has obviously had an impact.
“The hospital will still have to deal with things like heart attacks, strokes and sick children. It is felt that some people may be suffering in silence in the community and not contacting the emergency services for things other than Covid-19.
“It’s hard to get hold of the emergency services at the moment. There is a worry that we might find mortality goes up in the community.
“There have been situations where people have been going to A&E when they shouldn’t but I am loathe to blame the patients. If you can’t get an appointment with your GP practice because it’s inundated then you will go somewhere. At A&E the lights are on 24/7.”
Patients struck down with ‘minor’ injuries or illnesses – including wounds needing stitches, rashes, ear infections,sprains and strains, suspected broken bones, bites and stings, minor head injuries, minor burns and severe sore throats – have been told to stay away from the Royal Stoke’s A&E.
But the data has also led to fears that some patients are shunning A&E because they do not want to get coronavirus.
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Royal College of Emergency Medicine president Doctor Katherine Henderson said: “We are concerned that this drop in attendance may mean people with serious health problems are avoiding going to their emergency department for fear of getting coronavirus.
“The response to the coronavirus outbreak by the NHS has been superb; capacity has been ramped up at pace and we’ve seen an increase in staff.
“The most important thing the public can do at the moment is to stay indoors and follow the Government’s advice. But do seek medical help if you need it – don’t stay at home with a heart attack out of fear.”