The number of people turning up at accident and emergency (A&E) departments has started to increase again having fallen sharply after the start of the coronavirus lockdown.
But the figures for Brighton remain significantly lower than three months ago as patients still appear to be staying away.
This has prompted concerns that patients who genuinely need treatment may be unnecessarily worried about seeing a doctor or going to hospital.
Health chiefs have been keen to offer reassurance, with doctors’ surgeries, A&E departments and hospital wards adapted so that patients with covid-19 symptoms are kept separate from everyone else.
At a Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) meeting last week, the governing body was told that A&E attendances across Sussex averaged 10,621 a week before the lockdown started in March.
In the week to Sunday 10 May, the figure was 7,758.
From Sunday 16 February to Sunday 8 March, more than 2,000 people a week went to the A&E department at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, in Brighton.
In the week to Sunday 29 March, the first week of the lockdown, the number fell by more than half to 976.
In April one of Britain’s leading emergency consultants spoke out about the situation.
Rob Galloway, who is currently the medical workforce lead for covid-19 at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH), said: “It’s still safe to attend A&E. If you need to come to A&E, you should.”
Dr Galloway told Brighton and Hove News: “We’re concerned that the public are coming to harm because patients who are unwell aren’t coming to A&E.”
And when they did come, he said, they were often in a much more serious condition, with a poorer chance of survival or of making a good recovery.
Since he spoke out, A&E attendances have crept up again but the number was still fewer than 1,500 for the week to Sunday 10 May.
At the same time the hospital has had many more empty beds. From Sunday 16 February to Sunday 8 March, 99 per cent of beds were occupied at the Royal Sussex.
But the bed occupancy rate fell to 58.5 per cent for the week to Sunday 5 April, the first week of lockdown.
By the week to Sunday 10 May it was only at 71 per cent – much lower than usual.
The CCG’s interim chief officer Karen Breen said that a campaign to encourage people to see their doctor was having some success.
She told the governing body that it was still early days for the NHS Open for Business campaign but there were signs of improvement.
The national campaign was aimed at encouraging people, particularly those with existing medical conditions, to attend routine GP and hospital appointments rather than risk their health getting worse.
And it included the sort of reassurances given by Dr Galloway in April – that people would be seen in a safe way to minimise the risk of coronavirus infection.
Ms Breen said that regular screening services, such as diabetes reviews, which were suspended because of the coronavirus crisis, were back up and running again.
Health chiefs were also keen to encourage people with cancer symptoms or the signs of other serious conditions to contact their GP (general practitioner).
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