On April 25, Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS, had to launch a new drive to persuade the public to seek the urgent care and treatment they need.

Experts said it was vital that anyone with chest pain called an ambulance immediately, because every minute of delay increases the risk of dying or experiencing serious complications from a heart attack.

Senior author Professor Colin Baigent, director of the medical research council population health research unit at the University of Oxford, said: “Some people may still be worried about going to hospital because they fear encountering the coronavirus. 

“But the truth is that, by delaying or not going to hospital, people with heart attacks are at much greater risk of dying from their heart attack than catching the virus, and the NHS is ready and able to provide excellent cardiological care.”

Commenting on the report, Tim Chico, professor of cardiovascular medicine and honorary consultant cardiologist at the University of Sheffield, said: “This study confirms the personal experience of many cardiologists – the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK was associated with a huge fall in the number of patients coming to hospital with heart attacks. 

“Although on the face of it a reduction in heart attacks would be welcome, the strong suspicion is that the true rate of heart attacks did not fall, but simply that people did not seek help for chest pain or other symptoms. 

“Unfortunately, Covid-19 has the potential to cause harm even to people not directly infected, as this study shows.”

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