Sharp drop in numbers attending hospital emergency departments

ESRI research shows 27% decline in people seeking urgent treatment

The number of people attending emergency departments fell by 45 per cent between the first and last week of March, according to the research. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The number of people attending emergency departments fell by 45 per cent between the first and last week of March, according to the research. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

 

The number of people attending hospital emergency departments for “urgent” medical treatment fell by 27 per cent in March following the coronavirus outbreak, new research shows.

The number of people attending emergency departments fell by 45 per cent between the first and last week of March, according to the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The drop in hospital attendances has been flagged by the Health Service Executive, with senior officials consistently urging people not to delay seeking medical help.

There was a drop of nearly a third in the number of people attending emergency departments in March, compared to the same period in 2019.

The research, published on Friday, attributed the drop to a fear among the public that they may contract coronavirus while in hospital, or that they did not wish to add to the pressure on the health service.

People may also have been less likely to attend their general practitioners for similar reasons, which had led to a drop in GP referrals to hospitals, the research said.

Another factor in the drop could be that people were less likely to pick up injuries or illnesses during the lockdown, due to the lack of travel, sport, and social contact, the researchers said.

The average number of daily attendances in emergency departments in the first week of March was 3,503. It had fallen to 1,912 by the last week of March.

The drop in attendances was particularly pronounced among younger age cohorts and children, according to the study, which was based on emergency department attendance data from all Irish public hospitals.

The number of people attending emergency departments with “urgent” issues fell by 27 per cent, similar to a 32 per cent drop in attendances over less urgent medical issues.

Aoife Brick, one of the ESRI researchers, said the figures suggested people opted against attending emergency departments following the Covid-19 outbreak, “when under normal circumstances they would have”.

“The public must be encouraged not to ignore symptoms and attend EDs when they need to,” she said.

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