Experts urge public not to stay away from A&E after 5,000 heart deaths since first lockdown

Britain has seen an extra 5,000 heart deaths since the first lockdown, experts warned as they urged the public not to stay away from Accident and Emergency departments this time.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) said too many people were staying away from hospitals amid fear of putting pressure on the NHS or catching Covid. NHS figures for October show the total number of people attending A&E was a quarter lower than normal.

The BHF analysis revealed 4,622 "excess deaths" from heart and circulatory diseases from the start of lockdown to mid-October. Its experts urged anyone suffering heart problems not to delay seeking care.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, the BHF associate medical director, said: "We know that patients with heart and circulatory disease have been dying from it in numbers in excess of what we would expect since the beginning of the pandemic, and this is on top of also being at an increased risk of severe Covid-19 resulting in deaths.

"From the onset of the pandemic to October 16, there have been 4,622 excess deaths in England. We must learn lessons from this pandemic, and it seems that it’s very important that we do maintain access to cardiovascular care despite the winter surge and coronavirus resurgence so that we can, wherever possible, reduce these excess deaths."

It follows warnings that the Government’s message to "Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives" may have had a "devastating" impact by deterring thousands of patients in medical crisis from seeking help. 

Dr Babu-Narayan, a consultant cardiologist, said: "I wouldn’t want people to be so worried about protecting the NHS that the patient doesn’t get protection themselves. If you have a heart condition, remember that the NHS is open for you and it’s here to protect you, rather than you having to worry about protecting it."

As the nation went into the first lockdown in late March there was a significant fall in people seeking help for suspected heart attacks.

Dr Nick Linker, the national clinical director for heart disease for the NHS in England, said: "The NHS continued to offer treatment for urgent and routine heart problems throughout the pandemic and the number of people seeking emergency care quickly rebounded during the first wave, after some people had initial concerns about coming forward for care.

"Going into the second wave, hospitals are continuing to redesign services so that care can go ahead safely, and our message remains the same: if you have symptoms, help us help you by coming forward so we can get you the care you need."