There has been a drop in the number of people attending A&E across Nottinghamshire over winter, statistics show.
The emergency department at Queen’s Medical Centre and City Hospital saw 17,665 attendances in November 2021, compared to 15,983 in December.
And at Sherwood Forest Hospitals, 653 fewer people attended in December 2021 compared to the previous month.
The drop came as the country grappled with an outbreak of the Omicron variant – on Christmas Day, there was a record 113,628 confirmed infections.
Dr Irfan Malik, senior partner at Elmswood Surgery in Sherwood said that generally, people don’t want to sort health issues over Christmas and New Year “unless they have to.”
A spokesperson for the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire system, including Nottingham University Hospitals and Sherwood Forest Hospitals, said they have been encouraging people to “use services wisely”.
As a result, they said there has been an increase in people using their local pharmacies or 111 instead of A&E.
Dr Malik told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “From the beginning of December towards the end, Omicron cases were going up and people were staying away.
“We’ve had this problem throughout as the message was to stay away and save the NHS in the first lockdown.
“There were well advertised long waits in A&E as well and I think that message came across strongly in the media.
“People with serious problems will go to A&E but with the minor problems, people probably got better or went somewhere else.”
Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, told the Telegraph of his concerns that people with cancers and heart conditions could be staying away from the NHS because of Covid concerns.
Dr Malik added: “We are still getting people presenting late saying they were worried about getting infected or disturbing the doctors.
“People have left things for two years, I’ve seen that in patients even this week.
“In General Practice we didn’t notice that drop off so I don’t think that one month will make much of a difference. But from the whole two years of the pandemic, we will have delayed diagnosis.
“We were expecting a terrible winter even before it came. We were chocka and saw lots of extras on top of normal clinics.”
Dr Malik added that there could be a non-Covid medical backlog of around 5-10 years “which will get worse over the next six months”.
Georgia Power, Chair of Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Committee at Nottingham City Council (Lab) said: “I have heard that there has been a drop in attendances nationally.
“It is important people know A&E is still open and if people are concerned, they should get seen.
“We saw an increase in missed cases during the first lockdown and we were finding out that there were missed opportunities down the line.
“I would encourage people if they are worried about going to A&E to ring 111 beforehand.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “We have been encouraging our community to use our services wisely and use 111 online if it is not an emergency or life threatening and we would like to thank our community for doing this to help us ease the pressures in our emergency departments.
“We do of course encourage people to still come to A&E if it is a serious or life threatening emergency, but we have seen an increase in people using other NHS services such as their local pharmacy and 111 online, which is encouraging to see as often they will get seen and treated more appropriately by using these services.”
There was also a decrease in the number of patients waiting 12 hours or more from the decision to admit the patient to their admission.
But the numbers of patients waiting remains high – 362 people waited more than 12 hours in December 2021, compared to 425 in November.
At Sherwood Forest Hospitals, there was an increase as 56 people waited 12 hours or more, compared to 23 people in November and two people in October.
The NHS spokesperson added: “We would like to apologise to patients who have had to wait longer than we or they would have liked for their admission and would like to reassure patients that as part of our winter plans and Covid surge plans we have opened a significant number of additional beds and teams across our hospitals continue to work incredibly hard to admit patients coming in by ambulance as quickly as possible.
“Our partners across health and social care are also doing all they can to support and we are continuing to work with our partners to get patients into hospital and to discharge those who are well enough to leave, meaning we have more beds available to people who need them.
“We continue to ask the public to help us by getting vaccinated against Covid-19 and flu to help protect themselves and to use 111 online if it is not an emergency.”
Total A&E attendances Nottingham University Hospitals 2021
December – 15,983
November – 17,665
October – 18, 928
September – 18,561
Total A&E attendances Sherwood Forest Hospitals 2021