There has been a 20% drop in the number of people seeking help for heart attacks in Northern Ireland since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, it can be revealed.
Cardiologists and a leading charity have warned they believe people are putting their lives at risk as they are worried about attending hospital during the coronavirus crisis - with concerns they may become infected and also because they don't want to become an additional burden to the health service.
According to figures from the Western Trust, 27 people sought emergency treatment for serious cardiac problems, including nine heart attacks, in the immediate period up to the lockdown between March 1 and 23.
This is compared to 14 patients who came to hospital with a serious cardiac complaint, including five heart attacks, between March 24 and April 15.
Doctors in the Western Trust are so worried about the situation that they have set up a special telephone triage system and made a video to encourage people to get help if they are having symptoms of a heart attack.
They have also offered reassurances that patients will be seen in a non-Covid area of the hospital.
It comes after similar concerns were raised that people are staying away from hospital despite experiencing stroke symptoms.
Karen McCammon, from the British Heart Foundation in Northern Ireland, said a delay in accessing treatment could lead to unnecessary deaths and more people living with debilitating heart failure if they do recover.
"Many cardiologists are anecdotally describing to us a dramatic decrease in the number of people going to A&E with suspected heart attacks," she said.
"The Western Trust's telephone service, that will see a cardiac nurse on the other end of the line advising people of the next step, will help ease people's concerns, but most importantly it will direct them to how best to access necessary treatment."