Diagnoses of heart failure, coronary heart disease and diabetes fell by up to half during lockdown, GP records show in a new Lancet study.
Electronic health records of approximately 250,000 people in Salford, Greater Manchester, were analysed to identify the impact of Covid-19 on general practice between March and May.
For circulatory system diseases such as stroke, heart failure and coronary heart disease, there was a 43 per cent reduction in diagnoses, the researchers found.
The number of diagnoses for type 2 diabetes and mental health conditions were half the normal number.
Meanwhile, there was a 16 per cent drop in malignant cancer diagnoses in the whole three-month period – but a 44 per cent decrease in May alone.
The reduction in diagnoses has led to fears many people are unaware they are living with potentially life-threatening conditions.
Richard Williams, who led the study at the University of Manchester, said: “We were aware that GP practices have been reporting a drop in the number of patients seeking medical help since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Thanks to electronic health records, it is possible to investigate whether this is true across a large urban area like Salford.
“Importantly, our research has revealed which conditions people are not seeking medical attention for.
“This means that, potentially, there are high numbers of people living with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes, mental health conditions and circulatory system failure.”
Dr Owain Thomas, a GP in Salford, said it is essential to root out people whose conditions may not have been diagnosed due to the pandemic.
“The conclusions of this research are a vital part in our understanding of the overall impact of Covid-19,” he said.
“The conditions we have looked at are usually many months or years in the making, so the reduction in new diagnoses does not represent a reduction in the burden of these diseases, more the fact that they have not yet been formally recognised.
“This will have an impact individually on those patients – the longer a patient goes undiagnosed, the more complications they are likely to suffer.
“As we move forwards, careful thought will be needed to plan services to find and support those patients who have not yet been diagnosed.”
The researchers used 10 years’ worth of data on diagnoses of various health conditions to predict how many new diagnoses would be expected between March 1 and May 31.
They extracted data on symptoms and observations, diagnoses, prescriptions, operations and procedures, laboratory tests, and other diagnostic procedures.
The research was published in The Lancet Public Health and presented at the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Conference on Coronavirus Disease (ECCVID).