Heart care horror as pandemic disruption sparks 30,000 ‘needless’ deaths

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A charity has raised an alarm over the 30,000 excess deaths of patients with heart conditions due to severe ambulance delays, inaccessible care and huge waiting lists amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The British Heart Foundation has conducted an analysis which has shown the since the outbreak of Covid in the UK, heart patients have been needlessly dying, with an average over 230 additional deaths a week above expected heart disease death rates.

According to NHS figures, it took ambulances in England an average of 47 minutes and 59 seconds in September to respond to emergency calls for incidents like suspected heart attacks.

But in August, the response time was far quicker, taking 42 minutes and 44 seconds on average, which is far above the target of 18 minutes. According to the BHF report, there is also a “vast backlog of time-sensitive cardiac care”, which has skyrocketed by 50 percent since the start of the pandemic to almost 350,000 people.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, an associate medical director at the BHF, 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. There aren’t enough NHS staff to deal with the ever-rising tide of heart problems, and those that remain are overstretched, overwhelmed and close to leaving.”

 

Speaking on the backlogs, Dr Babu-Narayan has previously said: “Timely heart treatment saves lives. Yet too many people continue to face agonisingly long waits for potentially lifesaving heart care, even for heart attacks where every minute counts. This matters because tragically, so many more people are dying from cardiovascular disease than can be expected.

“Urgent intervention from the new Prime Minister is needed now to prioritise cardiovascular disease, and prevent more lives needlessly lost to what remains one of the nation’s biggest killers. As a first step, committing to a funded NHS workforce plan now will help lessen future pressure on the health service and prevent extra lives lost.”

The NHS has been calling for a workforce plan to ensure there are enough people working in the health service to support patients as best they can.

The health service’s website argues that this will “make sure that we have enough people with the right skills to help care for patients now and in the future, enhance retention drives for nurses to continue their NHS careers, and empower our workforce to use new technology”.

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The NHS has also stressed that the long-term plan will require healthcare that is more personalised and patient centred, more focused on prevention, and more likely to be delivered in the community, out of hospital.

In a previous report, the BHS has warned that it could take as long three to five years for the heart care backlog to return to pre-pandemic level unless decisive action is taken from the Government as soon as possible.

BHS Chief Executive Dr Charmaine Griffiths said: “Vital heart tests and surgery can’t be put off – long delays cause anxiety and put people’s lives at risk. The voices of people with heart and circulatory diseases must be heard as the government considers the action needed to tackle the backlog.”

The charity argues that the backlog can be fixed through substantial long-term investment, which it claims will build capacity address the issues for people in care with heart and circulatory conditions.

The BHS has also called for an increase in the number of cardiac nurses, cardiac physiologists and other specialist roles so that people get the expert care they need.

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The charity has also argued that better support for heart patients as partners in their own care while they wait for crucial treatment.

But with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expected to make public spending cuts to fill the £40billion black hole in the Government budget, there were fears that the NHS would be deprived of vital funds.

However, Mr Sunak has said that funding for the health service must take priority as “difficult decisions are taken on spending”. It came after NHS bosses called for £7billion in extra funding to address the black hole in next year’s budgets sparked by rising inflation.

A 2021 spending review by the Treasury said the budget for the NHS in England would rise from £151.8billion in 2022-23 to £157.4billion in 2023-24 and £162.6 billion a year later. The Treasury added on Tuesday that these figures would not be reduced in the Autumn Statement. 

 



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