One of the worrying developments in the current pandemic is that the situation for non-Covid patients is worsening because many are not seeking help. A major survey published today by the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland reveals that just over 60% of local doctors have warned that the health prospects of those without the deadly virus are worsening.
Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA here, says it is "imperative" that the health needs of people without the virus are addressed quickly. There is also concern about the longer-term impact on patient clinical demand.
Due to fears about contracting Covid-19, people are not seeking treatment in hospitals and other centres, and some may even have died because of this. Sections of our hospitals have been less busy with non-Covid cases, and some are even empty as all efforts initially went into battling the deadly virus.
The main emphasis was how best deal with the surge of coronavirus cases, which stands at 3,767 in Northern Ireland. Another five deaths were confirmed yesterday, bringing the total to 381, and another 78 people tested positive. These figures confirm the deadly nature of the coronavirus, but there is also an urgent need to look at the cases of those ill for other reasons.
Dr Black emphasised that the health authorities must intervene to improve the situation, and said: "Doctors can see that without some type of twin-track approach now being developed, the prospects for patients will worsen."
He also underlined that the Health Minister Robin Swann has acknowledged that "we already had a dreadful situation with our waiting lists and that has not got better during the pandemic".
The big challenge now is to plan measures to deal effectively with the already long waiting lists, seeing new patients, and remaining prepared for a new surge of Covid-19 if it occurs.
The BMA survey also reveals that a quarter of our doctors are experiencing increased levels of depression, anxiety and burnout because of the pandemic.
The Department of Health must work to bring urgent help to non-covid patients. For some people their desire to avoid coronavirus, and the NHS need to cope with it, may have resulted in them falling seriously ill, becoming more ill, or even dying from a non-Covid condition.
That is a very grim irony indeed.