The fear of catching coronavirus is keeping patients away from their doctors, who are now concerned more people will die from non-COVID causes than from the pandemic.
The fear of catching coronavirus is keeping patients away from their doctors, who are now concerned more people will die from non-COVID causes than from the pandemic.

The illnesses not being diagnosed thanks to COVID-19

Exclusive: More than 60,000 patients a day are missing out on medical tests they need to diagnose disease and doctors fear a tsunami of illness could overwhelm the health system after COVID-19.

The drop off in medical testing and health presentations has led 15 doctor's groups, pharmaceutical and pathology companies and patient groups to form a new body urging sick Australians to overcome their fear of coronavirus and speak to their doctors.

The Continuity of Care Collaboration is warning cancers are going undiagnosed, people with heart conditions and strokes are dying or suffering more severe disability as people avoid health care because of COVID-19.

Patients avoiding their doctor because they fear COVID-19. Picture: Istock
Patients avoiding their doctor because they fear COVID-19. Picture: Istock

A big concern is patients with aggressive cancers may die if they wait months for health treatment and stroke victims who do not present in the first four hours for clot busting drugs will be more severely disabled.

The group is conducting a consumer survey to find out why people have stopped going to their doctors and hospitals to identify ways of improving access.

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said doctors were very concerned by the drop in patient numbers to GPs since the pandemic hit.

"The last thing we want is people neglecting their health," he said.

"We want people to know that it's never been easier to see your GP, with phone and video consultations now available."

Some patients will still need to see their GP in person, such as for medical tests, but Dr Nespolon he said infection control processes were in place in GP clinics to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"The Australian people have done an outstanding job by staying home to save lives," Leanne Wells, CEO of Consumers Health Forum, said.

However, she said they should be aware of recent changes which meant they could now receive care and minimise the risks of acquiring COVID-19 through Telehealth, e-prescribing of medicines and home delivery of medicines.

John Crothers, CEO of Pathology Awareness Australia, said he was alarmed at the number of people not seeking expert medical advice and maintaining their regular health routines.

"A few weeks ago, we identified that laboratory testing had declined by 40 per cent resulting in 60,000 patients not getting their regular pathology or diagnostic testing to manage or diagnose conditions," he said.

Doctors consults can now be done by telehealth. Picture: Istock
Doctors consults can now be done by telehealth. Picture: Istock

Medical technology developer Warren Bingham has Type 2 diabetes which he is trying to manage without medication using diet and exercise but he needs regular blood sugar tests.

The 52-year-old, who lives in Seaforth in Sydney, had his last blood sugar test in February and is questioning whether it is safe to see his GP to get a referral for a new test due soon.

"I'm asking myself whether it is something I'm comfortable with," he said.

"Is there a risk for me sitting in the waiting room at the GP clinic of developing COVID-19, that is certainly weighing on my mind but I have to get over it," he said.

Diabetes patients who don't keep a check on their blood sugar levels are at risk of complications including blindness, amputation of limbs and cardiovascular disease.

"Your health is more important than anything else go and get tested, don't procrastinate," he said.



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