SCOTLAND’S top doctor is worried gravely ill people are staying away from hospital because they don’t want to bother the NHS at a time of crisis.

The comments from interim chief medical officer Gregor Smith came as new figures released by the National Records of Scotland revealed a huge spike in the number of fatalities in March compared to previous years.

The total number of deaths registered in Scotland from March 30 to April 5 was 1741. The average number of deaths registered in the same week over the last five years was 1098.

Coronavirus was implicated in 282 of those extra 643 deaths.

Yesterday, Smith said the system “feels eerily quiet in relation to people presenting with illness which isn’t Covid-19”.

He added: “Just knowing that, as a clinician, is immediately disconcerting, because that illness hasn’t gone away. Somewhere it exists.”

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In a direct message to those who may be suffering in silence, Smith said: “We don’t need you sitting at home, worrying about the odd pains that you’ve suddenly started experiencing across your chest that you’ve never had before, or the sense of weakness and you’ll maybe be not sure why it’s happened, or even the bleeding that wasn’t there last week but has suddenly started.

“These are things that we want you still to come and see us about, because we can help you and make sure that if it needs further investigation or further assessment, or even further treatment, we can get that treatment to you as quickly as possible.”

Standing alongside Smith at the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing, Nicola Sturgeon said there may, at the moment, be a “tendency for people to be less likely to come forward to the NHS”.

She said: “They will think they’re helping the NHS and, you know, obviously, that sentiment is one we appreciate, but we don’t want people to not come forward if they’re worried about their health. If you are unwell or feeling under the weather for other reasons, come to the NHS, as you normally would.

“Some of those ways of accessing the NHS are slightly different, just know it, but it’s still there for you,” she added.

The First Minister said it was too early to say for sure if the rise in deaths were indirectly related to coronavirus, or patients staying away because they were worried the health service was overwhelmed, but admitted the Government was concerned.

Attendances at A&Es across Scotland were at a record low last week dropping to 11,020 – down from 16,425 the previous week.

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