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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Changes in Emergency Department Activity and the First COVID-19 Lockdown: A Cross-sectional Study

  • Author(s): Honeyford, Kate;
  • Coughlan, Charles;
  • Nijman, Ruud G.;
  • Expert, Paul;
  • Burcea, Gabriel;
  • Maconochie, Ian;
  • Kinderlerer, Anne;
  • Cooke, Graham S.;
  • Costelloe, Ceire E.
  • et al.

Introduction: Emergency department (ED) attendances fell across the UK after the ‘lockdown’ introduced on 23rd March 2020 to limit the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). We hypothesised that reductions would vary by patient age and disease type. We examined pre- and in-lockdown ED attendances for two COVID-19 unrelated diagnoses: one likely to be affected by lockdown measures (gastroenteritis), and one likely to be unaffected (appendicitis).

Methods: We conducted a retrospective cross-sectional study across two EDs in one London hospital Trust. We compared all adult and paediatric ED attendances, before (January 2020) and during lockdown (March/April 2020). Key patient demographics, method of arrival, and discharge location were compared. We used Systemised Nomenclature of Medicine codes to define attendances for gastroenteritis and appendicitis.

Results: ED attendances fell from 1129 per day before lockdown to 584 in lockdown, 51.7% of pre-lockdown rates. In-lockdown attendances were lowest for under-18s (16.0% of pre-lockdown). The proportion of patients admitted to hospital increased from 17.3% to 24.0%, and the proportion admitted to intensive care increased fourfold. Attendances for gastroenteritis fell from 511 to 103, 20.2% of pre-lockdown rates. Attendances for appendicitis also decreased, from 144 to 41, 28.5% of pre-lockdown rates.

Conclusion: ED attendances fell substantially following lockdown implementation. The biggest reduction was for under-18s. We observed reductions in attendances for gastroenteritis and appendicitis. This may reflect lower rates of infectious disease transmission, although the fall in appendicitis-related attendances suggests that behavioural factors were also important. Larger studies are urgently needed to understand changing patterns of ED use and access to emergency care during the coronavirus 2019 pandemic.

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