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British Heart Foundation reports that heart health has reached a tipping point

Posted: 10/11/2022

In the UK, one person dies every three minutes as a result of heart and circulatory diseases. Over the last ten years, these deaths account for around 25% of all deaths in England annually. Heart and circulatory diseases also contribute up to a quarter of the life expectancy gap in England between the most deprived and least deprived communities.

In 2021, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) published its report ‘Untold Heartbreak’, which documented the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the 7.6 million people in England living with heart and circulatory conditions.

The ‘Untold Heartbreak’ report highlighted the growing waiting lists for heart tests, surgery and interventions during the first year of the pandemic, in addition to a steep drop in cardiac hospital admissions. The report warned that, unless decisive action was taken to prioritise heart health during the recovery from the pandemic, what would result would be ‘a ticking cardiovascular care time bomb’.

A year later, the BHF has published its follow-up report ‘Tipping Point: Why Heart Care Must Be Prioritised Now’. Based on NHS statistics, the report shows that, in England, the situation has worsened. The report says that ‘heart care is in crisis’ with millions of patients unable to access routine cardiac care. This is compounded by very long waits for GP appointments, and ambulances taking too long to reach patients suffering from a heart attack.

The key findings of the new report include:

  • In England, from the start of the pandemic in March 2020 until August 2022, the BHF calculated that there were just over 30,000 excess deaths from ischaemic heart disease, the most common type of heart disease. This figure is 14% higher than would have been expected pre-pandemic.
    In addition, over the same period, the BHF found thousands more excess deaths from other heart or circulatory conditions, such as cerebrovascular disease (stroke) and heart failure.
    This is in contrast to the figures for all-cause mortality, which actually declined during the first half of 2022.
  • 7,000 patients had been waiting more than a year for a heart procedure. The BHF’s calculations show that this is 267 times higher than before the pandemic.
  • A record 346,000 people were on a cardiac waiting list in England by the end of August 2022. This represents a 49% increase since February 2022.
  • Nearly one in five cardiac patients surveyed (in a YouGov survey) said that their health had deteriorated since the start of the pandemic. The BHF states that this is significantly higher than the figure in its 2021 report.

The BHF report suggests that, although infection with Covid-19 was likely to be a significant factor in the excess deaths from heart and circulatory conditions during the first year of the pandemic, now the reasons are more likely to be factors such as sustained bottlenecks in the access to, and delivery of, NHS services. The BHF says that the figures suggest that NHS services have not yet sufficiently recovered or adapted to meet the needs of cardiac patients. The report argues that the impact of the pandemic on our health systems has ‘contributed to a situation where 60 years of progress against death and disability from cardiovascular disease is now in danger of being reversed’.

An associate medical director at the BHF, Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, said: “Far too many people continue to face long waits for time-sensitive heart care, putting them at higher risk of becoming more unwell the longer they wait, with potentially devastating consequences… Delays on such an extreme scale are likely leading to avoidable emergency admissions, permanent heart damage, disability from heart failure, and early death…”

The BHF’s report called for a strategy for heart care to be ‘at the top of the [government’s] agenda to prevent more heartbreak and needless loss of life’.

Camilla Wonnacott, associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper, comments: “We see many examples of tragedies where a patient suffering from a cardiac condition has not received timely care. Cardiac diagnosis and treatment are complex areas of medicine. Here at Penningtons Manches Cooper we have a specialist team that deals with cardiac care claims.”

If you or a family member or a friend have any concerns regarding the cardiac care you have received or that was given to a loved one, the Penningtons Manches Cooper team are here to provide initial advice. Please contact us on freephone 0800 3289545 or email on  or complete our online assessment form.

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