The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) is urging members of the community in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand not to let concerns over COVID-19 stop them from seeking treatment for acute and urgent medical issues or conditions.
“While there is an understandable and warranted level of concern in the community in relation to COVID-19, we do not want this to mean people delay seeking assistance for major and urgent health issues,” said ACEM President Dr John Bonning.
“By delaying seeking medical attention for severe illness or health issues such as heart attacks, asthma or abdominal conditions such as appendicitis, patients risk making their situations much worse. In extreme cases this can be life threatening, something we have learnt from other countries such as the UK.
“People who are elderly or have chronic illness should continue to have regular clinical reviews by their primary care practitioners and should visit the emergency department for assessment if they experience serious unexpected symptoms.
“Not seeking treatment can cause mild to moderate health issues to worsen over time, which risks placing a greater future burden on our healthcare system at a time when it is unclear precisely when the COVID-19 situation will peak.
“We are also extremely mindful of ensuring the healthcare needs of Māori and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members of the community continue to be met, and that specific healthcare services remain in place as required. Healthcare inequities will always be exaggerated in such a pandemic.
“At this time, vulnerable members of our communities are at particular risk, including people experiencing homelessness or chronic mental illness. It is important their pressing healthcare needs continue to be met.
“In the ongoing response to the pandemic, it is important for people to know that our hospital emergency departments remain open to treat and care for severely unwell patients, and that staff are there to help. Primary care is also still there for your routine and chronic healthcare needs.
“Part of the planning response to COVID-19 has also involved putting systems and measures in place to limit the risks of exposure to coronavirus to patients and staff in emergency departments, and we will continue doing everything in our power to keep patients safe and provide an optimum level of care.
“While we have been heartened by the strong and cooperative community response to help flatten the curve, engage in social distancing and stay at home, this should not extend to avoiding seeking treatment in a true health emergency.
“For those patients with potential COVID-19 symptoms or concerns, we encourage you to follow the directions of your local health authorities.”
ACEM is the peak body for emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand, responsible for training emergency physicians and advancement of professional standards. www.acem.org.au