People living in Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre have been urged to seek urgent medical attention if they develop worrying symptoms of serious disease during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the outbreak the number of cardiac, stroke and cancer patients at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals has dropped dramatically leading medics to worry that people may be concerned about putting an extra burden on hospital facilities or that they would be putting themselves at risk by coming into medical areas.
Health experts want to ensure people are seeking help when they need it as some conditions need immediate treatment and will not wait until after the pandemic is over.
Patients are assured that everything is being done to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 when visiting hospitals.
Leanne Macefield, Stroke Unit Ward Manager, said: “Normally get 20 people with suspected mini strokes (TIAs) referred into the unit a day, at the moment we are getting about one a day.
“Our patients are usually seen through GP referrals or through A&E, but the numbers have fallen dramatically.”
Patients are urged to seek medical help after having symptoms of a TIA, even if they resolve and disappear. A TIA is a warning that you are at risk of having a major stroke and an assessment can help determine the best way to reduce the chances of this happening.
“Now we are seeing patients after they have suffered a severe stroke which can be life changing or even life threatening,” Leanne explained. “It is vital that people contact the NHS if they have symptoms such as dizziness, slurred speech, drooping of the face or weakness in the arms, even if they appear to improve over time.
“We are particularly concerned during the lockdown that people are suffering at home alone and we ask everyone to check on neighbours, friends and family. Give them a call, knock on the door and stand at the gate, just make those checks if you haven’t seen or heard from them in a while.”
If you are concerned that you have any TIA symptoms you can always call the Stroke Unit at Blackpool Victoria Hospital on 01253 951028.
The Lancashire Cardiac Unit, based at Blackpool Victoria Hospital is also reporting about a third reduction in the number of patients suffering Myocardial Infarctions (heart attacks).
“This is highly unusual and very worrying as we fear patients may be delaying coming in to hospital,” said Consultant Cardiologist, Dr Billal Patel. “The patients we are seeing now are in a worse condition because of delays and we want to advise patients to call 999 if they get symptoms which do not go away within 10 minutes.”
These symptoms include, pressure or tightness of the chest, pain in the jaw, arms upper body, shortness of breath, sweating and nausea.
“We have seen a significant increase in the time people are taking from onset of symptoms to presentation at hospital. This has increased from an average of two hours to nearly four hours and this can result in the patient having a bigger heart attack, sustaining more muscle damage and resulting in a longer recovery time.
“Although we are suffering this dreadful pandemic, we are still treating cardiac emergencies as normal. If your symptoms persist for more than 10 minutes dial 999. Heart attacks are medical emergencies and require immediate treatment; we are here to provide that,” Dr Patel added.
“Hospitals are taking great precautions during the COVID outbreak to ensure they remain safe environments.”
Cancer specialists have also reported a rise in the cancellations of appointments to see people with suspected cancers.
All patients with suspected cancer are referred for an urgent appointment at the hospital, which can either rule out the presence of the disease or pick it up early and allow for urgent investigations and treatment to begin.
Dr Adam Janjua, a Fleetwood GP who is the cancer lead for the Fylde Coast NHS, said: “Cancer, heart attacks, strokes and other illnesses will not wait for COVID-19 to go away. Life goes on and while we are in lockdown and many things have closed temporarily, some services continue to be of extreme importance.
“If you have been fast-tracked for investigations into potential cancer, it is vitally important you do everything to attend that appointment.
“The hospital has taken steps to minimise the risk to patients and will try to do as many appointments as possible by video or telephone. However it is very important to undergo investigations where someone may have developed cancer and this can only be done at the hospital or in certain community venues.”