A top health boss has launched a major new drive to persuade the public to seek the urgent care and treatment they need.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens warned that delays in getting treatment due to coronavirus fears pose a long term risk to people’s health.
The plea comes alongside new findings that four in ten people are too concerned about being a burden on the NHS to get help from their GP.
Seeking medical help is one of the four reasons that people can safely leave home, in line with government guidance.
And Sir Simon stressed that the NHS is still there for patients without coronavirus who need urgent and emergency services for stroke, heart attack, and other killer conditions.
He said: “While NHS staff have pulled out all the stops to deal with Coronavirus they have also worked hard to ensure that patients who don’t have Covid 19 can safely access essential services.
“So whether you or loved one have the symptoms or a heart attack or stroke, are a parent worried about their child or have concerns about conditions such as cancer you should seek help in the way you always would.
“Ignoring problems can have serious consequences – now or in the future.”
While NHS staff have worked hard to put in place measures allowing people to access care safely – such as splitting services into Covid and non-Covid – attendances at Accident and Emergency departments are so far on course to be one million lower this April than last.
Some leading clinicians including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and medical health charities such as the British Heart Foundation and Stroke Association have expressed concerns that people are risking their long-term health, and their lives, by delaying getting the help they need.
A new public information campaign – including digital adverts, posters and social media featuring NHS staff – will be rolled out next week to persuade people to contact their GP or the 111 service if they have urgent care needs – or 999 in emergencies – and to attend hospital if they are told they should.
As well as encouraging people to seek help for urgent health needs, over the coming weeks the NHS will take steps to encourage people to use other vital services – such as cancer screening and care, maternity appointments and mental health support – as they usually would, by demonstrating how frontline teams are delivering them safely.
Professor Carrie MacEwen, Chair of The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said: “We are very concerned that patients may not be accessing the NHS for care because they either don’t want to be a burden or because they are fearful about catching the virus.
“Everyone should know that the NHS is still open for business and it is vitally important that if people have serious conditions or concerns they seek help. This campaign is an important step in ensuring that people are encouraged to get the care they need when they need it.”