Sharp fall in emergency department attendances at the start of the COVID-19 crisis in Ireland

New ESRI research published today, 22 May, shows that emergency department (ED) attendances in Ireland fell sharply at the onset of COVID-19 outbreak in Ireland. The average number of daily emergency department attendances at the end of March 2020 was approximately half what it was at the beginning of March. Similar reductions were seen across each region of the country. The reductions were substantial across all age groups, with particularly high reductions amongst younger age groups. There was even a decline in the number of attendances classified as very urgent/immediate. The fall in these more serious cases was 27%, compared to a 32% decline in less urgent attendances.

The research is based on the most up-to-date ED attendance data available from Irish public hospitals up to 31 March 2020. The data were provided by the Health Service Executive.

There may be many factors contributing to the decline in attendances. In particular, the timing of the reductions suggests that the public may be concerned about attending health facilities when there is a risk of contracting COVID-19 or fear that they are adding to the pressure on the health service. To help ensure that members of the public receive healthcare when they need it, more may need to be done to reassure them that it is safe and proper to contact their GP or attend hospital EDs.

Aoife Brick, Research Officer at the ESRI commented: “These data suggest that there are people who did not attend the ED following the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in Ireland when under normal circumstances they would have. The public must be encouraged not to ignore symptoms and attend EDs when they need to.”