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NHS staff have warned they are bracing for a summer “like no other” with the increase in Brits holidaying in the UK likely to put excess pressure on frontline services already stretched by the pandemic.
Restrictions on international travel combined with the start of the school holidays, and the end of most remaining restrictions across the country mean many will be heading to tourist hotspots in the UK over the coming weeks.
NHS providers in popular tourist destinations such as Cornwall, Devon and Cumbria are already bracing themselves for a higher than average influx in visitors, with some warning they face a “challenging” month ahead.
A recent YouGov poll found that 23% of Brits planned to holiday in the UK this year, compared to just 3% planning a holiday abroad.
“As people embrace the lifting of lockdown and greater freedom, we are all expecting this summer to be like no other,” said Dr John Garman, Chief Clinical Information Officer at NHS Kernow in Cornwall.
“With more people out and about, taking part in new activities, getting back on the surfboard, paddleboard or lacing up the walking boots, we anticipate treating more broken or fractured bones and sprains, and burns.”
Analysis of A&E data by PoliticsHome suggests that many Trusts in the UK’s most popular tourist areas could be bearing the brunt of these pressures as they face an increase in visitors above the national average rise of 4.1%.
University Hospitals Of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust — which sits on the doorstep of the Lake District — saw a 10.1% increase in people visiting A&E between May and June this year.
Elsewhere, Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust — which covers much of south Cornwall — saw a 11.2% rise in people seeking emergency treatment across the same period.
Several other Trusts close to tourist hotspots have also seen their figures rise significantly, including: Northern Devon Healthcare, up by 22.9%; Torbay And South Devon, up by 9.3%; and the Isle of Wight, up 7.3%.
The recent heatwave has also added pressure to services already stretched by the recent surge in Covid cases.
A spokesperson for NHS Gloucestershire CCG told PoliticsHome: “Much like the rest of the south west, Gloucestershire’s NHS, in particular our brilliant frontline professionals, are facing great pressure as a result of COVID-19 and the heatwave and we continue to urge people to choose wisely and consider carefully the range of healthcare options available.”
The warning comes after the A&E numbers hit the highest levels since records began last month, with around 52,000 additional people visiting emergency departments in England compared to pre-pandemic figures from June 2019.
Doctors have warned ministers that the NHS could be “absolutely dead in the water” if a rise in coronavirus cases coincides with other summer pressures.
Many local providers are launching information campaigns ahead of the peak holiday season in a bid to reduce the impact on frontline services, amid concerns that some tourists could be making avoidable trips to A&E.
“We only have one big hospital in the county and our emergency department is seeing lots of people come in because they haven’t thought ahead — they’ve left their regular medication at home, or they’ve hurt themselves by embracing the new-found freedom a bit too enthusiastically,” an NHS source in a popular tourist region told PoliticsHome.
An A&E consultant based in a seaside town said: “The ambulance workload has stayed pretty steady, the major injuries workload in the admissions have stayed steady — they’ve recovered back to pre COVID levels.”
“But what has shot up on top of that is the number of walk-in minor illness and minor injury stuff.”
Holidaymakers are being encouraged to contact their home GP, dial 111 or speak to a pharmacist before seeking emergency care, as well as ensuring they plan ahead if they have specific medical needs.
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