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New study highlights disruptive impact of pandemic on non-COVID NHS care in Scotland

A new study highlights significant drops in A&E attendances, and emergency and planned hospital admissions across Scotland during the first few months of the pandemic.

Led by researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Public Health Scotland, the study is the most inclusive investigation to date into the impact of COVID-19 on the uptake of hospital care in Scotland.

The team, including BREATHE analysts, conducted the work as part of the Early Pandemic Evaluation and Enhanced Surveillance of COVID-19 (EAVE II) study.

Numbers indicate a large drop in people accessing hospital care in lead up to UK-wide lockdown

Analysis of the figures, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, shows a dramatic drop in the number of people accessing hospital care between the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic on 11 March and the announcement of a UK-wide lockdown on 23 March.

Figures from the study show a 41% drop in A&E attendance, 26% fewer emergency hospital admissions, and a 61% decrease in planned hospital admissions, when compared to the same period in 2018 and 2019.

Arrows indicate A&E attendances, emergency and planned hospital admissions reduced by 41%, 26% and 61% respectively

Figures returning to normal, some areas more affected than others

In the subsequent months to the end of June, these figures begun to recover – with emergency hospital admissions and A&E attendances appearing to return more quickly than planned hospital admissions.

In some cases, including surgery and gynaecology, the number of planned procedures being carried out remained very low – at least 50% below normal – by the end of June.

Children under 15 years of age appear to have been particularly affected for emergency care (attendances and admissions), with a significant initial drop in numbers and a much slower return to pre-pandemic levels.

Table shows groups slowest to return to pre-pandemic levels, including children under 15 and areas of surgery and gynaecology

Findings build bigger picture of the impact of the pandemic

The researchers warn that the drop witnessed in accessing hospital care over this period is likely to have had an impact on non-COVID-19-related illnesses, increasing the chance of potentially avoidable illness and death.

Further research is needed to investigate the full effects of this disruption.

More information

Read the paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine

Read the story in The Herald

Visit the EAVE II website

Visit the BREATHE - Health Data Research Hub for Respiratory Health website

Cite as

Mulholland, R. H. et al. (2020) ‘Impact of COVID-19 on accident and emergency attendances and emergency and planned hospital admissions in Scotland: an interrupted time-series analysis’, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. doi: 10.1177/0141076820962447.