Dramatic drop in A&E numbers reflects people putting off urgent care because of Covid-19, Nuffield Trust warns

People may be putting off seeking care because of Covid-19 infection fears and worries of burdening overstretched NHS staff.

Press release

Published: 14/05/2020

Responding to the latest combined monthly performance stats from NHS England, the Director of Research and Chief Economist at the Nuffield Trust, John Appleby said:

“We are seeing a fast and dramatic drop in the number of people seeking care from A&E units by 57%. This is the first month A&E departments saw fewer than a million attendances since records began. We have also seen emergency admissions fall by a third. 

“People are likely putting off seeking care because of Covid-19 infection fears and worries of burdening overstretched NHS staff; this is despite some reassurance from both government and the NHS that these services are open. We do not yet know what impact this is having on people’s health: some people will have self-treated or sought other sources of care.

“The pause in routine treatments in mid-March has led to unprecedented falls in hospital activity with falls of a quarter in elective admissions compared to a year ago as the NHS created capacity to deal with Covid-19. Coupled with the fact that GP referrals also fell by 32% from last March will be adding to a growing number of people going without the care they need. This has the potential to create a huge backlog of demand for the NHS and stores up problems for the future.   

“The NHS will find it very difficult to catch up. It will take many months and increased use of the independent sector to meet this unmet need and bring services back to the level we were seeing pre- Covid-19. The health service is going to have to adjust, and this will take time. That means more people waiting and some services on hold.”


Notes to editors: 

Chief executives of the Nuffield Trust, the Health Foundation and The King’s Fund will appear at a Health and Social Care Select Committee evidence session later today (14 May), highlighting some of the key challenges in restarting NHS and social care services in the months ahead.

  • The latest monthly combined performance figures from NHS England can be found at:https://www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/statistical-work-areas/
  • The Nuffield Trust is an independent health think tank. We aim to improve the quality of health care in the UK by providing evidence-based research and policy analysis and informing and generating debate.
  • For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Simon Keen on 07805 217935 or simon.keen@nuffieldtrust.org.uk