Extreme disruption to NHS services has led to a sharp rise in deaths from heart disease since the start of the pandemic, a charity has warned.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) said ambulance delays, inaccessible care and waits for surgery are linked to 30,000 excess heart deaths in England.
He called for a new strategy to reduce “unacceptable” waiting times.
The government has said it will invest an additional £500m to ease pressure on ambulances and increase hospital capacity.
The BHF said its analysis suggests 395,000 people in England could be on a waiting list for a heart test or procedure by April 2023 based on current trends, up from 224,000 before the pandemic began. of Covid.
“Fighting to stay conscious”
In August, Phil Moore, a former professional skier, suffered a heart attack while walking to his car after a shopping spree.
The 50-year-old from Kent said: “It happened very suddenly, without warning, and I felt very, very sick. »
He called 999 twice but said he had to wait around 40 minutes for an ambulance as he fainted and lost consciousness.
“You worry afterwards but at this point you are just focused on surviving,” he said.
Paramedics arrived and took Mr Moore, who worked for the BHF, to an emergency heart unit in Ashford for angioplasty – a procedure that widens a blocked artery so blood can flow more easily.
“It was very scary, because it goes through your head that I want to talk to my wife again, I want to talk to my children again, but you don’t know if you’re going to. »
Doctors and patient groups are increasingly concerned about the high number of deaths from all causes recorded this year.
Data from the Office for National Statistics suggests the total number was 17% higher in England than might have been expected in the week ending October 21, based on the average for previous years .
Part of this rise can still be explained by Covid, which was mentioned on 523 death certificates in England in the week of October 14.
Another factor could be the aging of the population. The overall data on excess deaths does not take into account the fact that there are now more elderly people. This may be responsible for more than half of the total excess.
Ambulance waiting lists and delays
A new analysis of mortality data from the BHF suggests that heart disease is among the most common causes, responsible for 230 deaths per week above expected rates since February 2020.
The charity said “significant and widespread” disruption to cardiac care services was behind the increase.
Its analysis of NHS data showed that 346,129 people were waiting for urgent heart care at the end of August 2022, up 49% since February 2020.
He said 7,467 patients had been waiting for more than a year for heart surgery – 267 times more than before the pandemic.
At the same time, the average ambulance response time for a suspected heart attack has risen to 48 minutes in England from a target of 18 minutes, according to the latest NHS figures.
The BHF said difficulty in accessing face-to-face medical and hospital care may also have contributed to the increase.
He cited modeling from NHS England which suggested that the decline in the number of people with their blood pressure under control due to Covid could lead to an additional 11,190 heart attacks and 17,702 strokes over three years.
Dr Charmaine Griffiths, Chief Executive of the BHF, said: “It is devastating that the continued and extreme disruption to cardiac care has resulted in the loss of a loved one by 30,000 more families.
“Hundreds of thousands of people fear their heart disease will get worse before they receive treatment, which could prevent them from working or enjoying a full life. Many others are completely unaware that they now suffer from a condition that puts them at increased risk of premature death. of a heart attack or stroke. »
The charity is calling for a new national heart strategy to reduce waiting times for GP appointments, address staff shortages in heart care and increase investment in medical research.
The Department of Health said the NHS had made progress in tackling the longest treatment backlogs with waits of more than two years “virtually eliminated”.
A spokesperson added: “We are improving care and outcomes for people with heart disease by opening more than 80 community diagnostic centers across the country, which have already performed more than two million additional checks.
“We recognize the pressures ambulances are facing and have set out a range of measures to help alleviate this, including an additional £500million to speed up discharge and free up hospital beds, reduce waits in A&E and get ambulances back on the road quickly. »
Why is the death toll higher than expected?
Covid: life expectancy still falling in many countries
- Ambulance services in the UK
- heart disease
- heart attacks
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