Report sounds alarm over reduction in heart prescriptions and procedures

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There could be 12,000 additional heart attacks and strokes in England in the next five years due to a reduction in prescriptions issued for preventative medication during the Covid-19 pandemic, a report has warned.

According to the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) think-tank and analytics and consulting company CF, there have been 470,000 fewer new prescriptions for preventative cardiovascular medications over the past year, which could contribute to thousands of additional heart attacks and strokes.

An estimated 23,000 people missed diagnoses of heart failure during the pandemic and the number of echocardiograms conducted fell 44%, compared to 2019.

Referrals to cardiovascular and diabetes specialists remain a quarter below expected levels, their Without skipping a beat paper states.

IPPR research fellow Dr Parth Patel said: “Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are diagnosed with heart disease.

“The good news is that we have effective medications that can really slow down the deterioration of such disease and prevent future heart attacks and strokes. The bad news is the pandemic means almost half a million chances to prevent [this] have been missed.

“This is really alarming. It pits us in a race against time to avoid thousands of deaths in the coming years that would be entirely attributable to the pandemic’s disruptions to normal healthcare services.”

The report’s authors say a bold health policy is needed to reduce avoidable deaths from cardiovascular disease. It recommends that the government:

  • Finds and diagnoses patients who have been missed by increasing the number of echocardiogram tests carried out in the community
  • Creates a public health cabinet committee to help sequence and co-ordinate cross-government policies to improve health and reduce inequalities
  • Upgrades the NHS’s digital infrastructure.

“People with heart and circulatory diseases are facing devastating disruption to their care on a scale never seen before, and at every stage of their treatment,” said Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director and consultant cardiologist at the British Heart Foundation.

“What’s more, the pandemic’s true toll on cardiovascular care is still unknown. We are already seeing the consequences, with an average of 100 extra heart and stroke deaths in England a week and increasingly stark health inequalities.

“The pressure from Covid-19 may be lessening, but the backlog of cardiovascular care is ever increasing and must be urgently addressed. This is a significant but surmountable challenge that will require a clear plan and enough investment, now and in the long term.”

Meanwhile, separate analysis of NHS data by the British Hearth Foundation has found there were 39% fewer heart operations and other heart procedures performed in January in England compared with the same month in 2020.

At the same time, 150 times more people were waiting over a year for heart surgery and other heart procedures at the end of January 2021 compared to before the pandemic began. The list of people waiting a year or more stretched to 4,200, compared to just 28 people in February 2020.

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