The number of sick Londoners shunning hospital treatment because of fears of contracting Covid increased when the capital was put into Tier 2 restrictions, a health chief has revealed.
Jon Findlay, chief operating officer at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS trust, which saved Boris Johnson from coronavirus, said there had been a “big uptick” in the number of patients cancelling appointments in the last fortnight.
London was placed in Tier 2 on October 17, with restrictions including a ban on social meetings indoors. Mr Findlay said this move, coupled with the accelerating pace of the pandemic in Liverpool and Manchester, had made it more difficult to “maintain patient confidence” about coming to hospital for surgery and outpatient appointments.
He told the trust’s board meeting yesterday: “If patients are seeing everything that is going on in the news about how bad it is elsewhere, I think they do lose confidence.
“We are having to work really hard to inform and convince patients that it’s safe and that they should continue to come.
“We have seen an increase in the number of patients not attending — particularly when London moved into Tier 2, we have seen quite a big uptick in the number of patients that are not attending their appointments.”
Doctors have been concerned that thousands of patients with symptoms of cancer and other diseases had not sought checks, despite the risk of death from Covid being far smaller. Mr Findlay said patients were now presenting with more advanced disease.
Today the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) warned that, despite efforts to control it, the “spread of coronavirus in hospitals presents a risk to patient safety”.
The HSIB report was commissioned after the Government’s Sage advisory committee was told in May that about 20 per cent of Covid patients were thought to have contracted the virus while in hospital.
Latest figures suggest that dozens of patients a day may have been catching Covid in hospitals this month.
Since October 12 there have been more than 100 cases reported each day across England.
An estimated 193 patients caught the virus while in hospital, according to data reported on October 25.
Today’s report makes a series of observations to help the NHS reduce the spread of coronavirus. Nurses’ stations and areas where computers and medical notes are shared were identified as hotspots for potential transmission.
Guy’s and St Thomas’ yesterday had 23 Covid patients, of which eight were in critical care. Mr Findlay said the trust had a comprehensive symptomatic Covid testing programme for staff.
Asked if there was a risk of non-emergency surgery having to be cancelled due to an increasing Covid workload, he said modelling indicated that was not likely to happen over the next three weeks.
Guy’s and St Thomas’ was unable to provide a figure for the total number of patients who had cancelled their appointments since London entered Tier 2. Campaigners also warned today that delays in cancer testing due to the pandemic mean 50,000 people could have the disease but are undiagnosed.
They claimed the number could double in the next 12 months if referrals and screening do not catch up, with urgent action essential.
Macmillan Cancer Support said: “As the pandemic escalated, we know there was a significant drop in people visiting their GP with symptoms and being referred for cancer tests.
“This has meant 50,000 people in the UK are now missing a cancer diagnosis because of the disruptions caused by Covid-19 — a number that could double by this time next year.”
Mayor Sadiq Khan yesterday told ITV that the capital may be “beginning to see some regression in the spread” of Covid, with possible signs that the growth rate is slowing, though it was too early to tell whether this was a trend.
Professor Paul Plant, London regional deputy director for Public Health England, said: “More analysis is needed over time to determine if this is a longer-term trend. We will continue to monitor the situation but now is not the time to take our foot off the pedal. Cases are continuing to rise across the capital.
“If we want to continue pushing down on the curve in London, it is as important as ever that we continue to refrain from mixing with other households and wear a face covering where needed.”
Official figures showed the number of Covid patients in London hospitals has doubled in a fortnight to 792 last night.