As nationally the NHS reminds the public that it is still ‘open for business’, the region’s health leaders have renewed calls for people to seek medical help if they need it.
The North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System is supporting the national campaign and echoing that the NHS ‘is still here for you’.
The plea comes as emerging evidence shows that there has been a vast reduction in the number of people who are seriously ill in the North East and North Cumbria accessing NHS help.
There has been a significant decrease in the number of people presenting with stroke and transient ischaemic attacks (mini strokes). For strokes and heart attacks, early diagnosis and treatment of warning symptoms can reduce the risk of recurrence, heart failure and even death.
The number of people being referred for suspected cancer is also significantly down with GPs reporting that fewer people are accessing them for advice.
There has also been a large reduction in patients with chest pain seeking urgent medical advice and, as a result, hospitals are performing far fewer diagnostic and treatment interventions.
A key part of the national campaign is encouraging parents of young children not to delay getting NHS help if they need it.
Dr Stephen Bruce is a consultant paediatrician at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. He said: “We’ve seen lower numbers of youngsters being brought to our children’s unit at our Northumbria hospital since the coronavirus pandemic took hold which is concerning.
“Children who are not well can deteriorate very quickly if not treated and we would urge parents and carers not to put off seeking NHS help if their child needs to.
“Please don’t be deterred by worrying that you may catch coronavirus – we’re following the strictest infection control policies and it’s worth making your child aware that our staff will be wearing personal protective equipment so they are not alarmed.
“Whilst we’ve had to cancel our non-urgent outpatient activity, urgent appointments are still going ahead and we’d urge parents of children with appointments to attend as normal – they are taking place as they are important.”
Another strand of the campaign is urging people who are concerned about a symptom which potentially could be cancerous to contact their GP practice.
Dr Mark Dornan, a GP in Gateshead and also senior clinical Officer of NHS Newcastle Gateshead Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Over the past few weeks, GPs like me have seen a sharp drop in the number of people coming forward with things like possible cancer – if you have symptoms causing you concern, please don’t wait.
“We are still here for you – and the quicker you seek help, the better the outcome is likely to be.
“It might not be what you are used to – all GP consultations now happen by phone or video in the first instance, but many patients are surprised at how well this works. If your doctor feels you need to be seen face-to-face, they can arrange a safe way for this to happen.”
Dr Justin Carter, consultant cardiologist at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As the pandemic has evolved, the usual patterns of behavior of attendance for cardiac patients has definitely changed. People are trying to ‘ride out’ the chest pains for many hours longer than they usually would before they finally seek help because of the fear surrounding COVID-19.
“We want to urge those people not to be frightened, to seek medical help the way in which you would ordinarily. Call 999 when needed, or if the problem is less acute call NHS 111 or telephone your GP surgery for advice. You can have a telephone consultation, and if appropriate streamed to a hospital consultation – our teams are here to offer support to the people that need it most.”
The key messages from the national campaign are:
- If you need medical help, the NHS is still here for you.
- If you need medical help from your GP practice, contact them either online, by an app or by phone to be assessed.
- If you need urgent medical help, use the NHS 111 online service. If you cannot get help online, call 111.
- If it’s a serious or life-threatening emergency, call 999
- If you are told to go to hospital it is important that you go to hospital.
- You should continue to attend your appointments, unless you have been told not to attend.