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Lives at risk due to drop in heart attack hospital attendances

People suffering heart attacks during the coronavirus outbreak may be putting their lives at risk by delaying seeking medical help, according to the British Heart Foundation Cymru (BHF Cymru).

Cardiologists believe there has been a drop of at least 20% in the number of people seen in hospitals across Wales with a suspected heart attack since the UK-wide lockdown, a BHF survey has found. One Wales cardiologist said they believed their hospital had experienced a drastic drop in hospital admissions. The leading heart research charity is warning that hundreds of local people may be at greater risk of suffering long term heart damage, needing intensive care, or even dying as a result.

All of the Welsh cardiologists surveyed agreed they believe the decrease is because people are fearful of catching the virus during the outbreak and most agreed that people are worried about putting a further burden on an already under pressure NHS during the crisis.

In response to the problem the Wales Cardiac Network are progressing with plans to help deliver a fast diagnosis and access to treatment to those suspected of heart attacks and other cardiac conditions. This has been welcomed by BHF Cymru.

BHF Cymru Health Service Engagement Lead, Joanne Oliver said:

 “You should always dial 999 immediately if your chest pain is sudden, spreads to your arms, back, neck or jaw, and feels heavy or tight, or if you become short of breath or start to feel sick.”

“Many cardiologists are anecdotally describing to us a dramatic decrease in the number of people going to A&E with suspected heart attacks.

“The coronavirus pandemic is extremely serious, but it’s concerning if it also means people’s fears about the virus are putting them off calling 999 when they suffer heart attack symptoms.

It’s totally understandable that people might feel apprehensive about having to go to hospital or putting unnecessary strain on the NHS, but heart attacks don’t stop for a global pandemic.

“Our message is don’t delay because you think hospitals are too busy – the NHS still has systems in

place to treat people for heart attacks and they are still a top priority. Research has led to several effective treatments for heart attacks, but if you delay, you are more likely to suffer serious heart damage and more likely to need intensive care and to spend longer in hospital.”

This drop has also been seen in other countries hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, and more in-depth research is needed to properly understand how the Covid-19 pandemic is impacting heart and circulatory disease.

Dr Jonathan Goodfellow, Wales Cardiac Network Clinical Lead added:

“We are all aware of the large increase in deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic and the strain this is putting on the NHS. However, it is also very clear that people need to understand that essential emergency services for heart attacks, strokes and other cardiac emergencies such as pacemakers are continuing to be delivered.

The reported reduction in numbers of patients attending hospital with heart attacks, chest pains and collapses or blackouts is worrying. If we are to avoid preventable cardiac deaths and long-term illness it is vital that people understand that emergency services are being continued as well as possible during this period. Patients should not be afraid to seek medical attention if they are having chest pain or experiencing blackouts or faints. Emergency departments have created separate segregated areas for patients suspected of having Covid-19 and separate areas for those who are not suspected of having Covid-19.”

The BHF survey of 167 cardiologists across the UK, reports that 84% saw a decrease in numbers of patients admitted with the kind of heart attack needing percutaneous coronary intervention treatment.

PCI is an emergency procedure to open the blocked coronary artery triggering a heart attack and limit damage to heart muscle.

The BHF says that across the UK this could lead to unnecessary deaths and more people living with debilitating heart failure if they do recover.

The BHF is urging anyone who experiences heart attack symptoms to seek medical help immediately by calling 999. Leaving a heart attack untreated can be deadly, and the risks posed by delaying reporting are much greater than those posed by the virus.

For more information about heart attacks, the symptoms, and what to do, visit https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/conditions/heart-attack