Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Emergency department attendances during the COVID-19 pandemic: a retrospective analysis of attendances following Irish governmental pandemic measures
  1. Ryan Taylor Sless1,
  2. Nathaniel Edward Hayward1,
  3. Paul MacDaragh Ryan1,
  4. Conor Deasy2,
  5. Kantikiran Dasari2
  1. 1 School of Medicine, University College Cork, Cork City, Cork, Ireland
  2. 2 Emergency Medicine, Cork University Hospital, Cork City, Cork, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ryan Taylor Sless, School of Medicine, University College Cork, Cork T12 AK54, Ireland; ryan.sless{at}


Background COVID-19 has resulted in the death of over 1 million people to date. Following government-implemented regulations, there has been concern over the apparent decline in emergency department (ED) attendances and the resultant health legacy. Therefore, we aimed to characterise the attendances to an Irish tertiary hospital ED following the implementation of these regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods This retrospective observational study investigated all attendances to the Cork University Hospital ED from 15 February to 11 April in 2020 and 2017–2019. Attendances were stratified into four periods: Before COVID (BC) (15 February to 5 March), After COVID (AC) (6 March to 12 March), Educational Closure (EC) (13 March to 27 March) and Stay Home (SH) (28 March to 11 April), as per government regulations. Triage presentations of abdominal pain, shortness of breath, chest pain, headache and trauma were examined. Data were analysed by independent t-tests and χ2 analysis.

Results There were 8261 attendances to the ED in the 2020 time period compared with a mean of 10 389 attendances during the corresponding periods in 2017–2019. There was a significant decrease in daily attendances in 2020 compared with 2017–2019 in the AC (142 vs 188, p=0.02), EC (122 vs 184, p<0.001) and SH (121 vs 181, p<0.001) periods, including significant decreases in abdominal pain (AC: 9 vs 22, EC: 10 vs 19, SH: 11 vs 18, p<0.001), chest pain (AC: 9 vs 15, EC: 8 vs 15, SH: 9 vs 15, p<0.01), headache (AC: 5 vs 11, EC: 4 vs 9, SH: 4 vs 9, p<0.01) and trauma (AC: 3 vs 5, EC: 2 vs 6, SH: 3 vs 5, p<0.01).

Conclusion Our findings suggest that the combination of government-imposed restrictions and perceived risk of attending an ED during a pandemic may contribute to reduced attendances. Public confidence in EDs is necessary to reduce collateral damage caused by failure to seek medical attention during a pandemic; adequate infrastructure to allow social distancing and isolation capacity in EDs is a necessity.

  • infectious diseases
  • viral
  • emergency departments
  • epidemiology
  • acute medicine-other

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. Contact from Corresponding Author.

This article is made freely available for use in accordance with BMJ’s website terms and conditions for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic or until otherwise determined by BMJ. You may use, download and print the article for any lawful, non-commercial purpose (including text and data mining) provided that all copyright notices and trade marks are retained.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. Contact from Corresponding Author.

View Full Text


  • Handling editor Ed Benjamin Graham Barnard

  • Twitter @Prawnfryan

  • Contributors RTS, NEH and PMDR were involved study planning, data processing, data analysis and writing the manuscript. CD and KD were involved in study planning, data interpretation and writing the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.