Heart care disruption and ambulance delays contributed to 30,000 excess deaths


    Analysis by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) revealed that on average 230 more people died per week in England than would usually be expected.

    It warned patients were needlessly losing their lives due to the collapse in NHS ambulance response times, problems accessing services and a vast cardiac care backlog.

    Dr Charmaine Griffiths, chief executive at the BHF, said: “It is devastating that the ongoing and extreme disruption to heart care has meant that 30,000 more families have lost a loved one.

    “Today many hundreds of thousands of people fear that their heart condition could get worse before they get treatment – potentially stopping them from working or enjoying a full life.

    “There isn’t a moment to lose – the urgent needs of heart patients and NHS staff must be heard.”

    The BHF’s “Tipping Point” report said Covid-19 had likely been a driver of excess heart disease deaths during the first year of the pandemic, as research suggests that factors such as obesity and high blood pressure increase risk of both heart problems and severe coronavirus.

    However, now that Covid is no longer a driving force, the charity fears bottlenecks in access to NHS services are the main reason unusually high death rates persist.

    At the end of August there were a record 346,129 people waiting for cardiac treatment – up 49 per cent since February 2020.

    The average ambulance response time for suspected heart attacks in September was 48 minutes, against a target of 18 minutes.

    The charity said there are also millions of “missing” patients who have struggled to access routine care for conditions such as high blood pressure, which increase risk of heart attack and stroke.

    Modelling from NHS England suggested the decline in blood pressure management since the pandemic began could lead to an extra 11,000 heart attacks and almost 17,000 strokes over a three-year period.

    The BHF is urging ministers to develop a national heart strategy and deliver a fully funded NHS workforce plan to tackle chronic staff shortages.

    Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, 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.

    “This can’t become business as usual – heart care staff need fit-for-purpose facilities and a clear plan so patients can receive their time-critical care, allowing them to lead a fuller, healthier life away from hospital beds and waiting rooms.”

    Father’s excruciating 40-minute wait for an ambulance

    Phil Moore thought he was going to die in a supermarket car park while waiting 40 minutes for an ambulance after suffering a heart attack.

    On his way out of the store three months ago, he started sweating profusely, feeling dizzy and having heavy pain in his chest.

    The 50-year-old had worked for the British Heart Foundation and recognised the signs of a heart attack. He called 999 immediately but endured a terrifying wait as he drifted in and out of consciousness.

    Phil said: “The heart attack came on very suddenly, with no warning, and it came on very strong. While slumped in the driver’s seat, I was fighting to stay conscious.

    “All I could think about was that this could be the place I’d ever be, and I might not see anyone I love ever again.

    “I mustered the strength to look at my phone after a while, and it had been 20 minutes since I had called for an ambulance. I redialled 999 and pleaded with the call handler to send an ambulance quickly.”

    Phil lives near Maidstone in Kent with his wife Rachel and their children.

    When the ambulance finally arrived, he was rushed to an emergency cardiac unit for a procedure to widen a blocked artery.

    He added: “It was very scary, because it goes through your mind that I want to speak to my wife again, I want to speak to my children again, but you don’t know if you’re going to.”


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