Cornwall’s top doctors fear hospital A&Es could be quickly overwhelmed by risk-taking tourists this summer as Britons head to UK beaches instead of going abroad.
NHS doctors have warned tourists and residents alike must call NHS 111 before going to A&Es, to help maintain social distancing in emergency rooms and avoid the spread of the coronavirus in hospitals.
Cornwall is expected to be one of the most popular “staycation” destinations for Britons who have had their long-haul foreign holidays cancelled this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although Cornish authorities are expecting a lower turnout from tourism than in a normal year, there will still be an increase in population of around 20 per cent, modelling suggests.
The local tourist board was one of the first to ask tourists to stay away during the pandemic, but has now reversed its message and is welcoming visitors to support local businesses.
Restaurants, pubs, hotels and hospitals must maintain social distancing, making this year’s tourist season a logistical challenge for authorities.
But doctors worry an influx of visitors could create health risks, especially in A&E units dealing with scrapes and beach injuries, and alcohol-related mishaps.
Dr John Garman, a Cornish GP and governing body member of NHS Kernow, said: “The seaside areas like Newquay and St Ives, will see really huge increases in visitor numbers, and therefore minor injury units and general practice will all get really busy with the extra quantity of people.
“There is a really big impact for pretty much everyone in Cornwall, and a lot of people go on holiday to either walk, or do things they wouldn’t necessarily do at home, so they are slightly more at risk of injury than they would be in their own back garden,” he said, adding that “alcohol is sometimes certainly a problem” with tourists who travel to the county on holiday and then injure themselves.
Toby Slade, an emergency department consultant at Royal Cornwall Hospitals in Truro, said people should call 111 first before going to A&E for incidents that are “urgent but not an emergency”.
Phone operators will help spread people out across emergency departments in Cornwall to help them cope with the extra capacity, he said.
“I think everybody is the same when they are on holiday, culturally people enjoy themselves more and people do tend to put themselves at greater risk,” he said.
“We want people to join Cornwall, have a great time, and enjoy everything it has to offer, but to keep themselves and their family safe.”
The latest estimates from the Cornish tourism office suggest the county may be seeing as many as 80,000 people visiting already, which could rise next month as lockdown measures ease further and children begin school holidays.
Malcolm Bell, CEO of Visit Cornwall, said the greatest challenge to the county’s health authorities was “a hot sunny day when the tide is coming in all day”, which could push beachgoers up the sand and reduce the space between family groups.