‘Huge fall’ in non-Covid hospital admissions and attendances

There has been a "huge fall" in the number of people attending and being admitted to hospital with non-Covid illnesses during the pandemic, which could pose risks to patient health and add to already lengthy waiting lists.

The Irish Patients’ Association is warning that emergency hospital admissions and attendances have fallen by one third during the Covid-19 outbreak and will have ramifications for patients and the health service.

An analysis of hospital attendance and admissions figures by the association found a 36% fall in emergency attendances, from 163,000 over a seven-week period in March/April 2019 to 104,000 over the same period this year.

Similarly, the number of emergency admissions fell by 28% from 45,000 in March/April last year to 32,000 over the same period this year.

Director of the association, Stephen McMahon, said a fall in hospital admissions and attendances would be expected given that Covid-19 lockdown measures would impact on-road vehicle and workplace accidents but not to the extent shown in the data.

“The concern is that patients with illnesses other than Covid-19 are not attending hospitals in the numbers that we would usually see.

There has been a huge fall in the number of emergency hospital attendances and admissions and you would have to ask what is happening to those patients, who may need urgent medical attention.

“The fall in numbers could pose a risk to the health of patients who do not seek medical attention and could also see waiting lists that were there before the Covid-19 outbreak growing even further,” he said, adding that anyone concerned about their health should contact their GP in the first instance.

Mr McMahon said the health service was already under pressure before the Covid-19 outbreak and had to cancel elective surgeries, improve home care packages, and add extra beds earlier this year to cope with the winter surge in demand on services.

“It was and still is an undeclared national emergency that has now been massively overshadowed by Covid-19,” Mr McMahon said.

The association also pointed out the Covid-19 outbreak has already led to a rise in waiting lists.

Before Covid-19 took hold, waiting list data collated by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) showed that 67,000 patients were waiting for day case elective treatment at the end of February.

By the end of March this number had increased to more than 77,000 patients waiting for day case elective treatment; figures for April are not yet available.

Mr McMahon said it is time to move on from the caretaker government and get on with addressing the critical issues that have blighted the health service for years and have now been compounded by the Covid-19 outbreak: “Patients and healthcare service users need a new government to be formed. We need a new government that is built on transparency and solidarity and a health service built on performance and accountability."

Meanwhile, the Irish Cancer Society has seen a 60% rise in the number of calls to its helpline since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.

The cancer charity confirmed that calls to its support line increased by 60% in March and April compared with the first two months of this year as cancer patients, survivors and their families sought support and information on a range of topics related to cancer.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic the Irish Cancer Society extended the opening hours of its Freephone Support Line from 9am-8pm Monday to Thursday and 9am-5pm Friday to Sunday.

The charity advise anyone who feels they may have a sign or symptom of cancer to act fast and contact their GP for medical attention as they normally would, or their hospital Emergency Department in emergency situations.

Anyone with a query about cancer treatment and coronavirus can call the Irish Cancer Society Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.