Western District Health Service (WDHS) has joined other regional healthcare providers in asking people not to delay seeking medical treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The call comes after data shows that Emergency Departments across the South West have experienced a sharp decline in presentations in recent months.
Although overall patient numbers from March to May increased at Hamilton Base Hospital due to COVID-19 screening and testing, there was a significant reduction in Emergency Department presentations across all triage categories.
Compared to the same period last year, the Hamilton Hospital ED had a 49% reduction in attendances for non–urgent care, a 20% drop in semi-urgent cases, as well as significant reductions (15% and 33% respectively) in urgent and emergency cases.
WDHS Chief Medical Officer, Dr Dale Ford says he is concerned that some community members may be avoiding receiving care from ED or their doctors. This could prove serious.
During the coronavirus pandemic we have screened and tested over 1,200 people at our Drive-thru, but have seen a dramatic drop in ED presentations more generally, and we want to make sure that people aren’t delaying care.
We want to stress to the community that they should not put off presenting to ED or consulting their doctor if they need care. This could delay diagnosis and treatment of serious conditions, including heart disease and cancer,” he said.
Western District Health Service (WDHS) Chief Executive, Rohan Fitzgerald says similar trends are being seen in hospitals across the State and the reasons for the lower ED attendances are complex.
“Research shows that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Victorian hospitals have experienced a significant drop in ED attendances, which is concerning.
People requiring less urgent care might not want to be a burden on hospitals and may be choosing to see how their symptoms play out, or they might be accessing alternative services, such as GP telemedicine.
The government lockdown, social distancing and hand washing guidance has also limited social contact, with initial research suggesting that this has led to lower rates of respiratory illness including pneumonia and flu, and fewer exacerbations of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
With schools closed, sporting activities suspended and restrictions to gatherings and recreational activities, the “opportunity” for injury has also dramatically reduced over the last few months.
We may not fully understand the causes of this reduction in Emergency Department activity for some time, but want to reassure the community that we are here for them, if and when they need us,” Mr Fitzgerald said.