Consultants at Morriston Hospital are concerned that cardiac patients could be putting their lives at risk during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Some patients appear to be avoiding hospitals and pharmacies because of the outbreak. Doctors are now urging them to continue their treatment plans, or they could become seriously ill.
Four people who had previously had stents fitted have ended up back in hospital in the last week because they did not take vital medication.
Others are believed to be failing to seek medical advice while suffering chest pains at home, a potential sign of a heart attack which if untreated can worsen.
Morriston has a cardiac centre which provides a regional service covering South West Wales.
It carries out around 750 heart operations a year and thousands of other procedures such as angioplasties – which use balloons and stents to open blocked cardiac arteries.
But there has been a noticeable drop-off in the number of patients attending the centre since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Consultant cardiologist Dr James Barry said: “My colleagues and I are concerned about the way patients’ behaviours are changing in the current climate.
“The worry is the pendulum has swung too far in avoiding attending hospital even in those who have serious cardiac emergencies.
“Also, we believe worries about going to the pharmacy are affecting compliance with medicines, resulting in harm and emergency attendances for avoidable heart attacks.”
Dr Barry said patients with stents must continue to take aspirin and other anti-platelet medicines.
Otherwise, he said, the stent can block and the patients have a heart attack.
“We have had four such cases in the last week. The reasons for this are various but the message is that these medicines are vital and can’t be foregone for a few days.
“If people are on prescribed medication they should ensure they have their repeat prescription so they can receive it from the pharmacy.
“Some people are reluctant to go out and collect it but then there is a real risk they will end up in an ambulance being brought into hospital.”
Meanwhile, consultant interventional cardiologist Dr Ayush Khurana urged anyone experiencing chest pains at home to seek medical advice, either via 111 or by calling 999 if it was really serious.
“While it is important to avoid hospital where possible there are patients who still need assessment and, potentially, treatment.
“We will either tell them everything is okay and send them home or get them treated as quickly as possible and then get them home.
“If they don’t seek medical attention they could be at risk of long-term heart damage or cardiac arrest.
“A lot of work has gone into ensuring the regional cardiac service continues to deal with patients with very real life-threatening conditions.
“We are assessing and treating as necessary and minimising the risk posed by COVID-19 where possible.”