Doctors say that some parts of the health service are “eerily quiet” and they fear people are not seeking medical help for illnesses and symptoms not related to coronavirus.
Scotland’s interim chief medical officer warned that sick people should still go to their doctor or to hospital if they are unwell, saying medics were finding the lack of non-coronavirus cases “disconcerting”.
Urging unwell people to not avoid seeking help, Dr Gregor Smith told the Scottish public: “Your NHS remains open to you.”
The GP, who has stepped into to the role of CMO following Dr Catherine Calderwood’s resignation, added: “When I’ve had conversations with clinicians and nurses across the country, one thing keeps coming back to me – that the system feels eerily quiet in relation to people presenting with illness which isn’t Covid-19 right now.
“That, as a clinician, is immediately disconcerting just now because that illness hasn’t gone somewhere – it still exists – and people are perhaps making a choice not to present just now.
“If people are experiencing symptoms like chest pain, bleeding or numerous other symptoms that people sometimes try to put off seeking help; these are things you should be seeking help for.
“I want to get the message across very, very clearly to everybody that we, as clinicians, need to see you when you have these symptoms.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon explained that many of the coronavirus measures that are in place to deal with people with Covid-19 were, in part, to ensure that those with other illnesses could still access the treatment they required.
Asked about concerns that people are not seeking medical help and advice because of the coronavirus, Ms Sturgeon acknowledged that people are less likely to visit hospital or their GP at the current time, but there was not yet enough evidence “to say that people are dying for those reasons”.
On the issue of people not wanting to put additional pressure on the NHS, she added: “That sentiment is one that we appreciate but we don’t want people to not come forward if they are worried about their health.
“Other illnesses haven’t gone away because of coronavirus.”
It followed news that the overall number of recorded deaths for the first week of April was 643 higher than the five-year weekly average. Of that total figure, 282 have been linked to coronavirus.
Ms Sturgeon said that potential flaws with the government’s coronavirus response or an overstretched health service would not be a “reasonable or safe conclusion to draw” when asked about the higher-than-average death rate – even when accounting for those linked to Covid-19 symptoms.
She said the increased deaths being reported may due to registration centres being closed at the weekend but added: “We are exploring that and studying that further, and will hopefully have an explanation in the weeks to come.”