But charities said more should have been done to get medical care up and running quickly when it became clear early on that the NHS was not stretched. Nightingale Hospitals in particular were largely empty even at the peak of the pandemic and have only recently been reassigned for normal care.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation and Consultant Cardiologist, said it was a priority to restore heart and circulatory care: “This report is a sobering wake-up call for governments and the NHS across the UK to urgently restore and maintain care for people with medical conditions including heart and circulatory diseases.
“Although the latest statistics have shown fewer excess deaths in recent weeks, people are still experiencing delays in accessing vital treatment and care, which could make them sicker and ultimately lead to more deaths from both undiagnosed and existing conditions.
“The growing and significant backlog must be tackled to prevent a tidal wave of illness overwhelming the NHS whilst it’s fighting Covid-19.”
Last week, the University of Oxford found that 5,000 fewer heart attack patients had attended hospital from March to May, many of whom could have died through lack of medical care.
The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) also warned that delays in diagnosis and treatment meant many people who would have recovered from their illness were now facing incurable cancer.
Modelling by the ICR suggests that a three-month delay to surgery alone across all Stage 1-3 cancers could cause more than 4,700 attributable deaths per year in England.
Clare Turnbull, Professor of Cancer Genomics at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “Lockdown and re-deployment of NHS workers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing significant disruption to cancer diagnosis and management.
“For patients with cancer, delay of surgery has the real potential to increase the likelihood of advanced disease, with some patients’ tumours progressing from being curable – with near normal life expectancy – to non-curable – with limited life expectancy.
“At this point, it is crucial to ramp up capacity as quickly as possible to allow cancer services to clear the backlog accumulated during lockdown.”
Figures released last week from Target Ovarian Cancer showed that more than half of women with ovarian cancer surveyed said their treatment had been affected by coronavirus.
Annwen Jones OBE, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “It’s hard to overstate the difficulties faced by women with ovarian cancer during this pandemic. We must not let them down as health services recover.
“It is urgent that we now see comprehensive plans and a timeline for the full restoration of diagnostic, treatment and support services. This is the only way to avoid worse outcomes and a devastating toll on women’s lives.”
Data compiled by The Telegraph showed that by the end of May there had been more than 23,000 excess deaths in care homes or at home, not linked to Covid-19, since the middle of March.
There are also fears that the government’s ‘protect the NHS’ message was too effective, with many people staying away from hospitals when they needed urgent medical help.
In April, Chief Executive of NHS England Sir Simon Stevens was forced to issue an urgent message asking people to come forward if they needed treatment.
However the report did predict some good news for lockdown. Experts calculated that there would be approximately 200 – 500 fewer road traffic and air pollution deaths, 67 fewer murders and a small drop in work related accidents during the six month first wave period.
There may also be a positive impact on health as a result of increased physical activity as people take the opportunity to use their one instance of daily exercise, the authors state, although they also warn that some may become more sedentary whilst staying home. And there is some evidence that recessions can improve mortality rates, possibly saving a few thousands lives.