PEOPLE accessing emergency rooms across East Lancashire are getting treatment quicker than they were this time last year, new data suggests.

Accident and emergency departments are seeing fewer people through their doors than ever before as experts predict the coronavirus pandemic is keeping people from attending hospitals.

However the decrease in the number of people through the doors is having a profound effect on waiting times, with more people getting seen in a shorter window of space in April 2020 compared to the same month last year.

The latest figures from NHS England show that while only 78 per cent of people were seen by doctors and nurses within four hours last year, around 90.4 per cent of those coming through the doors of emergency rooms are now being seen within that time frame.

The trust, which is responsible for the Royal Blackburn Hospital and Burnley General, has a target of 95 per cent.

These latest figures became available as health experts urged people ‘not to be afraid’ to go to hospital out of fear of the coronavirus pandemic.

Professor Dominic Harrison, director of public health and wellbeing at Blackburn with Darwen Council, urged people to remember that the NHS is very much still open for business.

He said: “We are aware of a big reduction in A&E attendance across the country since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Do not be afraid to attend hospital as there are measures in place to avoid transmission of COVID 19 in hospital settings.”

NHS England said NHS 111 service levels had been heavily affected by increased demand caused by coronavirus, but that figures so far for May showed a return to call volumes only slightly higher than the demand expected at this time of year. Data also shows that the number of patients waiting to start treatment at the end of March was 4.2 million, down on the 4.4 million in the previous month.

John Appleby, director of research and chief economist at the Nuffield Trust, said: “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.”

He said the pause in routine treatments in mid-March had led to “unprecedented falls in hospital activity” as the NHS created capacity to deal with Covid-19, while GP referrals also fell.

“The NHS will find it very difficult to catch up,” he added.

“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.”