PATIENTS have been urged not to be afraid to go to hospital during the pandemic, as visits to A&E fell by more than 30 per cent.

NHS England figures show there were 14,554 A&E attendances at the East Suffolk and North Essex Trust, which runs Colchester Hospital, in March.

This was 8,406 fewer than a year previously, equivalent to a 37 per cent drop.

Trust chief executive Nick Hulme confirmed cancer referrals and people seeking care for strokes and heart conditions had also fallen dramatically.

Mr Hulme said: “Help us to help you is our clear message. We know that many people who need urgent or immediate help are not coming into hospital or visiting their family doctors.

“I completely understand the fear and apprehension everyone may be feeling but we really do need to give people confidence so that people get the care they need.

“I know that we are seeing a 69 per cent decrease in the number of referrals that we are receiving for patients suspected of having cancer, and that we are only seeing a limited number of people who need urgent and immediate help for strokes and cardiac care.

“We need to change this and we need to do this quickly.

“What we are doing now is to continue to plan the care of our patients who need urgent and essential treatment.”

Mr Hulme said work was also underway to review plans on patients waiting for surgery.

New dates will be offered to those who urgently need an operation.

He added: “We will only bring you into hospital for a test or to see a specialist when a face to face meeting is needed.

“Wherever possible, we will carry out virtual appointments so that you do not have to leave your home and come to the hospital. This will be by telephone or by a video link.

“There is a great deal of work going on to make our hospitals and services safe and clean.

“This includes extra cleaning in all areas.

“It also involves having specific and dedicated areas throughout our services which are known as green areas – places where no-one being cared for with Covid-19 has been treated.

“And we are very clear about the importance of social distancing – staying at least two metres away from one another.”