How busy is A&E after Covid lockdown easing?
Visits to A&E departments are almost back up to pre-lockdown levels after a significant slump during the second Covid wave, NHS data reveals.
Figures for March show around 23,000 people were treated by emergency departments across our three main hospitals, up by a third (32%) from 17,500 in January.
A total of 12,477 people visited Ipswich and Colchester hospitals for emergencies while a further 4,525 attended departments for minor injuries.
That is up from 9,926 emergency cases in January and 3,051 for minor ailments.
Meanwhile, 5,740 people visited West Suffolk Hospital for emergencies in March and 307 for minor injuries, compared with 4,388 and 216 in January.
Higher A&E patient numbers in March could be accounted for by boosted activity levels among the general population - children went back to school on March 8, and the first major lockdown easing took place at the very end of the month on March 29.
April's data, which will incorporate the second stage of easing on April 12, will be released mid-month and give a fuller picture of how under-pressure A&Es could be when social distancing measures are fully scrapped.
It is unclear if and how the significant Covid outbreak at Ipswich Hospital in early April impacted A&E, with the spread of the virus predominately impacting wards.
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Throughout the pandemic, health bosses including Ipswich and Colchester hospitals chief Nick Hulme have been encouraging people to come to A&E and hospital when they are seriously unwell.
The warning came amid plunging visits in lockdown which sparked concern people were not seeking help due to fear of catching Covid in hospital.
Neill Moloney, managing director at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, has now reiterated that message - but asked that as life begins to resemble normality, people think about which hospital service they need, if their illness is serious enough for A&E, or if it could be dealt with by NHS 111 or a GP.
“People must come to hospital if they are very unwell and need urgent or emergency care," he said.
"Our accident and emergency teams are here to safely care for anyone who needs their help.
He added: "However, the best way our communities can support the NHS is to use services appropriately.
"If you think you need A&E but it’s not an emergency, call NHS 111 or visit 111.nhs.uk first, or contact your local pharmacy or GP for help with minor or routine problems.”
Dr Steve Dunn, chief executive of West Suffolk Hospital, said A&E has been fully functioning throughout all stages of the pandemic.
"We have always encouraged people to come in to receive treatment if they need urgent care," he added.
But he too said to seek advice from NHS 111 if patients are unsure coming to hospital is the best course of action.