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20,000 stay away from A&E departments in Kent amid coronavirus pandemic

More than 20,000 fewer patients visited A&E departments across Kent last month as the county battled the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Emergency units are seeing record low numbers amid the crisis, with people believed to be staying away over fears they could contract the deadly virus.

The number of patients attending A&Es in Kent has fallen drastically
The number of patients attending A&Es in Kent has fallen drastically

Kent's A&Es saw 25,161 patients in April - down almost half from the 45,717 in the same month last year.

At the same time, people attending the county's minor injuries units and urgent care centres fell almost 60%, from 16,691 to 7,063.

Lockdown restrictions are likely a significant factor, with fewer cars on the road and people isolated in the relative safety of their own homes.

And while the figures indicate a drop in the number of people going to A&E unnecessarily is also playing a part, health chiefs fear some patients with potentially serious ailments are staying away.

The number of people using A&Es and other care centres has plummeted amid the Covid-19 pandemic
The number of people using A&Es and other care centres has plummeted amid the Covid-19 pandemic

Next week, the NHS is launching an ad campaign urging those who are ill to visit their GP or hospital, or dial 999 or 111.

It will also call on people to access vital services such as cancer screening and treatment, maternity appointments and mental health support should they need it.

Cancer Research UK has said the number of referrals for urgent hospital checks is down by 75%.

An estimated 2,300 cancers are being missed every week as a result and many operable cancers becoming untreatable.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has also reported a 50% fall in heart attack patients at A&E.

It surveyed 167 cardiologists across the UK, with 71% believing people are afraid to visit hospital during the Covid-19 crisis due to fear of being exposed to the virus.

Almost half are worried about putting pressure on an already overburdened NHS.

It is feared this hesitancy to access treatment could lead to unnecessary deaths and more people living with debilitating heart failure if they do recover.

All four hospitals trusts in Kent have seen a big fall in emergency attendances
All four hospitals trusts in Kent have seen a big fall in emergency attendances

A spokesperson fromKent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group said: "We know that a lot of people have avoided coming to A&E over recent weeks.

"We’ve heard that, in many cases, people have wanted to avoid putting additional pressure on the NHS during this challenging time.

"We’ve also heard that, in some cases, people are worried about potentially coming into contact with patients who are being treated for coronavirus and so have stayed away from hospital and GP surgeries.

“But one of the biggest worries that we are hearing from doctors and nurses across Kent and Medway is that people may not be seeking the help they need when they are ill.

"For many serious conditions, such as cancer or diabetes, if you delay seeking medical help then the outcomes can be much worse than if you are seen earlier.

“Their message to the people of Kent and Medway is very simple - we are here for you, and to support the health and wellbeing of everyone in our community.

“If you or your family need care, you can still get help from your GP, use 111 and – for serious issues – come to A&E or call 999. All of the NHS has separate areas used to see non-covid-19 patients to minimise the risk of infection.

"It is really important that people continue to seek help early if they need it.”

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