It was always a worry that when the NHS restricted access to health care during lockdown to reduce the spread of infection that patients who needed treatment for other reasons would get neglected. The extent of that neglect has now been revealed in a month when excess deaths hit a historically high levels.
A major study published in January 2023 by the British Heart Foundation shows that nearly half a million people in Britain missed out on starting medication to help prevent heart attacks and strokes. This was a consequence of a huge reduction in the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Alarmingly, the authors of the study have shown that the detection of high blood pressure and high cholesterol have still not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
It turns out that the rush to prevent deaths from a new infection raised the risk of dying from the more well known killers of undiagnosed high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Emergency planners thinking about the next pandemic should be prioritising how the routine screening for high blood pressure and high cholesterol can be maintained during any future pandemic.
Acute pressures on NHS
Also contributing to the national excess deaths figures is the waiting time to be seen in an emergency. So along with the increased risk of heart attack and stroke is the risk of not being seen in a timely manner when a medical emergency strikes.
Speaking on 12 January Dr Adrian Boyle, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “December’s performance figures are truly shocking, more than 50 per cent of all patients facing waits over four-hours and nearly 55,000 patients facing 12-hour waits from the decision to admit. 12-hour waits from decision to admit obfuscate the truth and are only the tip of the iceberg, we know the reality is far worse. We know that the scale of long-waiting times for Emergency Care is causing harm to patients and is associated with patient deaths.”