Patients such as those with cancer who may be due treatment or surgery, or those awaiting organ transplants, have told of their concerns over coronavirus meaning they cannot get the care they need.
And Professor Chris Whitty, speaking at the daily briefing in Downing Street today, admitted those who are deprived would suffer more.
Prof Whitty said in considering an exit strategy from current restrictions, there were “at least four different kinds of mortality and ill health we need to take into account”.
He said: “There’s the direct effects of people dying from coronavirus, there’s the indirect effects of the NHS if it were to become overwhelmed and therefore unable to provide emergency care for either coronavirus or other areas, and all the activities we’re doing at the moment are to make sure those are minimised.
“But it is also really important to remember that there will be effects from the fact that some healthcare has had to be postponed to make room for this within the NHS, and of course anything that has an impact on the socioeconomic status - particularly of people who are more deprived - will have a long term health impact as well.
“And we have to in our exit strategy balance all of these different elements, which to some extent can be in tension.”
The briefing took a different tone to those in recent days, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Prof Whitty, and Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Dame Angela McLean refusing to be drawn on plans to wind down measures, despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaking about tests and immunity passports on Thursday.
Prof Whitty, in his first public appearance since recovering from coronavirus symptoms, said that it would be a mistake to discuss the next phase of managing the pandemic until there is confidence that the peak has been reached.
He said: “The key thing is to get to the point where we are confident we have reached the peak and this is now beyond the peak and at that point I think it is possible to have a serious discussion about all the things we need to do step-by-step to move to the next phase of managing this.
“But I think to start having that discussion until we’re confident that that’s where we’ve got to, would I think be a mistake.”
Responding to a question about whether Government measures could be eased in a staggered fashion by either region or by type of person, Mr Raab said: “Obviously we’re very mindful of the challenges businesses are facing, small businesses, all employers and of course the workforce as well.
“But the risk is if we start taking our eye off the ball, of tackling the coronavirus, stopping the spread and getting through the peak, we risk delaying the point at which we could in the future take those decisions on easing restrictions.
“So it is really important right now to keep the over-riding focus on maintaining the discipline that we’ve had, keeping adherence to the guidelines that the Government has set out and making sure that we stop the spread of coronavirus.”
Mr Raab said: “We do not want to confuse the message right now because we are not past the peak.
“To get past the peak, we must have people respecting those guidelines otherwise we undo all the good work that so many people have achieved and contributed to through their forbearance, particularly as the weather gets a bit warmer.”