HUNDREDS more people than average have died from cancer, heart disease and dementia in Scotland since the coronavirus outbreak took off.

Campaigners said the figures were “deeply concerning” and warned that lives are being needlessly lost because patients feel reluctant to bother doctors during the pandemic.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the phenomenon was also occurring in other countries but that it was an area the Scottish Government would “do further work on to make sure we have understood it fully”.

READ MORE: Care home deaths nearly equal to those in hospital

It comes after fears over a huge drop in the number of people with possible cancer symptoms being referred for tests, and record low attendances in A&E.

The latest report from National Records of Scotland also revealed that Covid-19 had been mentioned in 1,616 death certificates in Scotland by April 19.

This puts the death toll 77 per cent higher than that recorded in the daily statistics, which only include patients who tested positive for the virus.

The total number of deaths from all causes was 80% higher last week than the average for the previous five years, with 651 of the 844 ‘excess deaths’ linked to Covid.

The NRS data, which is considered more accurate, came as the number of confirmed Covid-19 deaths in Scotland reached 1,062 - the first time they have exceeded 1000.

However, there was mounting concern about the impact the virus is having on other conditions, as the report revealed for the first time some of the causes behind the other ‘extra’ deaths which have occurred in the past three weeks.

Between March 30 and April 19, a total of 2,368 more deaths than normal were recorded, of which 886 were considered unrelated to Covid.

Of these, 161 were cancer deaths, 167 were caused by strokes or heart disease, and 270 were linked to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

A further 294 were simply categorised as “other”.

Jane-Claire Judson, chief executive at Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, said: “Sadly these new figures on mortality are probably as a result of what we already know, that fewer people are going to hospital when they suspect a heart attack or stroke.

“It is so worrying that extra lives are being lost and that people are dying as a result of feeling they shouldn’t seek medical attention during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Serious medical conditions don’t stop as a result of coronavirus. Every day in Scotland 25 people will have experienced a stroke and 31 people will have had a heart attack. The same will happen tomorrow.”

READ MORE: Huge drop in urgent cancer referrals 

Heart specialists and A&E consultants have previously warned that patients suffering cardiac symptoms were delaying calling an ambulance “until absolutely the last gasp” because they were worried about burdening the NHS or catching coronavirus during hospital treatment.

Professor Hany Eteiba, a cardiologist at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank and president of the Scottish Cardiac Society, warned that patients were arriving “much sicker and in a much more serious condition”.

Patients are also known to be at higher risk from the virus if they have blood cancers such as leukaemia, are undergoing chemotherapy, have had a recent bone marrow transport, or are on certain types of cancer drugs.

It is unclear why there has been a spike in cancer deaths unrelated to Covid, however, although some cancer surgery and treatment has been put on hold if it was considered non-urgent or because clinicians believed the risk from the virus outweighed the risk from the disease.

Some patients have been told to contact their doctor only if they show symptoms, with routine blood tests and scans temporarily stopped.

Marion O’Neill, Cancer Research UK’s head of external affairs in Scotland, said: “We’re yet to uncover the full impact of the pandemic on people affected by cancer and on NHS services but these figures are deeply concerning.

“What is certain is that coronavirus has left cancer diagnosis and treatment in a precarious position.”

Macmillan’s head in Scotland, Janice Preston, said it was vital that cancer patients “still receive the best possible care”.

“This means ensuring those with cancer symptoms know they can contact their GPs and ensuring diagnostic tests go ahead,” said Ms Preston.

“It also means continuing cancer treatment where the patient’s clinical circumstances allows it, and ensuring all staff working with cancer patients have the correct PPE.”

Routine cancer screening has been paused for three months as part of the Covid response, and figures this week revealed that urgent cancer referrals were also down72% as fewer people contact their GP.

Henry Simmons, chief executive of Alzheimer Scotland said many people in the late stages of dementia would be living with family or in care homes, which now account for one in three Covid-19 deaths.

However, he said the increase in Alzheimer's and dementia deaths not attributed to the virus had to be examined.

He said: "This significant increase in the numbers of people with dementia that have died needs further investigation in order to ensure that we are doing all that can be done to protect and care for people with dementia during these unprecedented times.

"We must also ensure that people living with dementia are not deterred from seeking health care as a result of the pandemic, and the measures that have been put in place."

Meanwhile, the First Minister welcomed signs of progress as the number of Covid patients in ICU fell to 155, the lowest since early April.

“[These statistics] are a source of optimism, and soon I hope a fall in the number of people dying will show that too,” said Ms Sturgeon.

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