With winter and a potential second wave of Covid-19 approaching, the Royal College of GPs has called for the public to not ignore symptoms unrelated to coronavirus.
Referring to a study published in The Lancet, Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of RCGP, said that “we urge patients who have concerns about their health to seek medical assistance, particularly if they have signs that could indicate serious conditions, such as cancer”.
New data from Salford indicates that during lockdown diagnoses were down by 50% for common health problems, circulatory system diseases 43%, and type 2 diabetes 49%. With researchers saying people who may have been experiencing symptoms of illness are avoiding contact with health services, and that potentially life-threatening diagnoses have been missed.
Preventing a future backlog of non-Covid cases
Prof Marshall explained that “the fall in consultations is likely due to a number of factors, including patients having concerns about accessing GP services due to fear of contracting the virus or overburdening NHS services – and a desire to follow official messaging to stay at home to help stop the spread of Covid-19”.
Researchers in the study dismissed the possibility that remote consultation by GPs was leading to these missed diagnoses, as new prescriptions were also down. And further recommended that "consultations, by telephone or video chat, remain widespread and normalised, so that patients can continue to engage with health services even when they have concerns".
Figures in The Lancet study also seemingly correlate with a report by Public Health England, which showed that demand for childhood vaccinations were also lower than last year- to which Prof Marshall responded that “it would be a tragedy if we were able to find a vaccine for Covid but are left with outbreaks of other deadly diseases for which vaccines already exist”.
Recently published ONS figures have added even more numbers to this worrying trend with analysis of death registrations showing a rise in deaths at private homes, and deaths from diabetes, hypertensive disease, and heart-related conditions occurring above a five-year average.
Addressing patients' hesitancy in coming into practices Prof Marshall said: “For those who do need to come to the practice for a face to face appointment, safety measures will have been implemented to try to keep patients as safe as possible.”
These statistical trends have highlighted fears within the medical community of a backlog of missed, preventable, and otherwise treatable diagnoses.