There is a feeling of positivity this week as we see a huge amount of testing across Victoria and overtly busier shopping centres and public places.
When coronavirus first hit our shores, there was a lot of hysteria. From a health perspective I recall ambulance bays being turned in to triage areas – there were hoards of people presenting to Emergency Departments to get tested as people felt vulnerable and ill-equiped to deal with COVID-19.
Once the health authorities realised how contagious the disease was and modelling showed exponential growth if we didn’t intervene, we were rapidly thrust into isolation.
During ‘lock down’, we saw elective surgeries cancelled, GP’s and specialists move to ‘telehealth’, and the ambulance service change their clinical practise daily, in order to keep up with the ‘moving goalposts’ of coronavirus. Where the health industry had been previously following quite routine guidelines, coronavirus rapidly caused a dynamic situation where guidelines and protocols had to be adapted. Now as a health care professional it was hard to keep up with the changing directives – I can only imagine as a consumer how difficult it was be across what you should and should not be doing.
So with all these changes, people naturally began to only go to their GP’s if it was absolutely necessary. They avoided calling 000 like they normally would, and emergency departments began to empty out. Now this was actually a good thing initially as had we not implemented social distancing, we may have ended up in situations like Italy.
However, because coronavirus was ‘stealing the show’ and we were trying to mitigate the ‘catastrophe that could have been,’ we didn’t realise the decline in presentations for non-covid cases until recently.
What the data is now showing is quite a drastic decline in some common presentations to hospital. I’ll give you some statistics so you can see what I’m referring to:
In Australia, we have had a 30% reduction in heart attack presentations to the Ambulance service and Emergency Departments.
There has also been a 25% reduction in cancer referrals to hospitals in Australia
St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne has experienced a 35 per cent drop in patients coming to the emergency department and in Geelong, the University Hospital is down to 170 from an average of 220 a day
Royal Adelaide hospital would normally see 300 patients a day – it’s now down to 170!
Westmead hospital in Sydney also reports reduced patient numbers however they have seen a spike in ‘home improvement’ injuries.
There are practical reasons why many of these presentations are down because of things like:
We’re not travelling, going to school or work -often things happen at workplaces that require medical treatment.
There are less cars on the road and therefore fewer accidents.
People aren’t playing sport and so there are fewer sport related injuries presenting to ED.
Because of isolation, we aren’t sharing other germs such as gastro viruses which often necessitate a trip to hospital.
Whilst these situations account for some of the decline, the health industry are now concerned about a second wave of illness after COVID-19. This second wave will be to urgent care services that will be needed for non -COVID symptoms such as heart attacks and urgent surgeries. Whilst people were endeavouring to do the right thing and stay home, the reality is we will still have heart attacks, strokes and other ailments like appendicitis. These diseases unfortunately do not discriminate.
The other concern is a third wave which will be related to chronic illness and its complications. Things like cancer treatments that have been delayed, diabetic follow ups that were not done and gastrointestinal symptoms that were not addressed during the pandemic.
So why the concern?
During the pandemic, there has been less screenings being done for things like pap smears, breast screens and bowel screens; less blood tests being performed; less follow ups for asthma and respiratory issues; and less cardiac follow ups. Doctors worry that once people start to enquire about their general health, there may then be delayed access to health services because of the sheer number of people that may start coming through. Essentially now that we feel more comfortable to go to health care providers, the case load will rapidly spike and we may not be able to meet demand in a timely manner.
So what can you do to help yourself?
Make sure you seek help with you doctor! Ask them about advice on any new symptoms, any issues with chronic illness and any screening tests that need to be done. Decide with your doctor what needs to be addressed now and what can possibly wait until another day? For example, we consulted our local GP who was able to come to our house and give all 4 of us our flu vaccination.
In the event of an emergency please do not hesitate to dial triple-zero and be assured that you will still receive ‘best care.’ The Department of Health wants to reassure you that hospitals are safe and if you need to go, you will be triaged accordingly.
Anyone with flu-like symptoms should self-isolate and call ahead before seeking medical help at a GP, hospital or dedicated COVID-19 clinic. At this stage, testing parameters have been opened up so most people can now get tested.
Finally, don’t ignore symptoms! If something doesn’t feel right or hasn’t gone away, contact your GP and format a plan. Early intervention has a far greater outcome for all.
Regards Kel 😊
Workout 1: Yoga
Workout 2: A fun cardio session
More about Kelly Nicholas
Kelly Nicholas holds a Health Science Degree in Paramedicine and currently works as a Paramedic for Ambulance Victoria. Kelly is also a qualified personal trainer with a Bachelor Degree in Exercise Science and has completed a specialisation in nutrition for exercise professionals. Kelly and her business partner Louise Moss, run Change it up Training - a small business specialising in training and motivating others to be the best/healthiest version of themselves.