Number of patients admitted to hospital for heart attack in steep decline, figures show

Anne Gulland
·3 min read
A patient being transferred to the Royal London Hospital - Tolga Akmen/AFP
A patient being transferred to the Royal London Hospital - Tolga Akmen/AFP
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

There has been a sharp decline in the number of people admitted to hospital with heart problems, in a repeat of what happened during the first lockdown, analysis of patient numbers has shown.

Research conducted by a team at the University of Leeds has shown that the numbers of cardiac patients began to fall in October, just as Covid-19 infections began to rise.

The data – which covers the beginning of October to November 17 – show that 41 per cent fewer people attended hospitals in England with heart failure and 34 per cent fewer with a heart attack compared to pre-pandemic levels.

This drop is similar to the decline observed during the first wave of the pandemic, the researchers said. And they believe this may have contributed to more than 2,000 excess deaths in England and Wales.

The research was published in a letter to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Chris Gale, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Leeds, who supervised the data analysis, said he was concerned about the repeat of one of the “preventable tragedies of the first wave”, when patients avoided hospital because of fears of catching Covid or because they thought hospitals were overwhelmed and unable to cope.

“The absolute key message is that hospitals are open for heart attack patients. Hospitals are effective and efficient and our quality indicators have been outstanding throughout the pandemic. We have dedicated pathways for cardiac patients,” he said.

“Hospitals are extremely busy with Covid patients but that does not mean we cannot cope with people with heart attacks,” he added.

Since submitting the data analysis to the journal, the research team has analysed more up to date figures, which includes patient data for the whole of November, and it reveals a continuing drop in patient attendances.

Prof Gale said it was likely the downward trend was continuing now as the UK experiences a severe third wave of Covid-19.

“I think we will have this persistent decline for some time. The numbers may go up and down but I don’t think we will go back to pre-pandemic levels for some time,” he said.

Figures from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre show that the number of patients admitted to critical care with a heart attack has also declined, but not by the same rate as general admissions. The latest weekly report shows that numbers fell in October but have started to increase slowly.

Earlier studies of heart admissions show that patient attendances began to drop ahead of the first lockdown, from 23 March 2020, and reached their lowest point in early April, with 54 per cent fewer people attending hospital emergency units with heart failure, and 32 per cent few with a heart attack.

Patient numbers began to recover towards the latter half of June but did not return fully to pre-pandemic levels.

Professor Simon Ray, President of the British Cardiovascular Society, added: “This research illustrates again the importance of the message that other medical problems don’t stop because of Covid and that people with serious problems like heart attack and acute heart failure still need to be seen and treated urgently to prevent death or long-term ill health.”

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