South Australians with medical concerns are being urged not to let the COVID-19 pandemic deter them from seeking the health advice and care they need.

There is concern that a significant reduction in emergency department presentations, ambulance call outs and GP visits may reflect South Australians trying to reduce the risk of coronavirus but in doing so are increasing even more the risk of other health issues.

“Our hospitals, ambulance service and general practitioners are there to provide care to all South Australians who need them,” said Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade.

“South Australians have responded to the coronavirus in an exemplary fashion, but it is critical they don’t delay seeking treatment for other dangerous medical conditions.”

In the first two weeks in April, South Australian major metropolitan hospitals saw about 8,000 emergency department (ED) presentations, a 32 per cent decrease compared to the same time last year.

The Women’s and Children’s Hospital had the greatest drop in ED presentations with a 50 per cent decrease, followed by Flinders Medical Centre at 32 per cent.

There were approximately 8,400 hospital inpatient admissions to our major metropolitan hospitals in the first two weeks of this month which is 25 per cent decrease compared to the same time in 2019.

The South Australian Ambulance Service (SAAS) has also experienced a drop in overall demand and April is tracking to be their quietest month for 2020 with only 10,536 emergency hospital transports as of 23 April, a 13 per cent decrease compared with April last year.

“These downward trends are causing us some concern and our message is clear – whether you have an acute illness, or a chronic health condition, hospitals and GP practices are very safe places and are open for anyone seeking medical help,” said Minister Wade.

“Now more than ever, it is vital that vulnerable patients keep seeing their healthcare providers for ongoing care, especially as we enter this year’s flu season.”

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer and Cardiologist, Dr Michael Cusack, said despite the COVID-19 measures currently in place, it is essential that people still attend their medical appointments to manage their health conditions.

“Urgent treatment is needed for time-critical conditions such as heart attacks and strokes,” Dr Cusack said.

“Any delay in receiving treatment for these conditions can have serious long-lasting effects.

“We want to ensure that members of the public seek help immediately if they think they may be experiencing a heart attack, stroke or other medical emergency.

“Our message is – please do not let concerns about COVID-19 cost you your health.

“Our healthcare sites and staff have strong plans in place to minimise the risk of COVID-19 exposure, so you can call an ambulance or go to a hospital ED with confidence.”

SA Health’s COVID-19 GP Liaison, Dr Emily Kirkpatrick, said people who delay medical attention due to COVID-19 fears may face a longer road to recovery.

“We are worried that medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and acute problems will be pushed aside for the coming months,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

“A survey of South Australian GPs show approximately 78 per cent has noticed a considerable drop in patient numbers, which concerns all health professionals.

“In addition to a drop in GP visits, we have also seen significantly less people getting blood tests, meaning they are potentially putting their chronic illness at risk.

“If you are concerned about exposure to COVID-19, speak with your healthcare provider about the options available to you, which may include telehealth appointments or home visits”.