11,000 lost lives from heart attacks due to poor NHS care

11,000 lost lives from heart attacks due to poor NHS care


More than 1,500 heart attack victims are dying needlessly every year in Britain due to substandard care and delays in treatment, a study in the Lancet has found. The research found that a failure to ensure patients in this country receive quick treatment and good aftercare has cost at least 11,000 lives in the last seven years, with death rates one third higher than elsewhere.

Cardiologists said the failure to follow national medical guidelines meant that not enough patients in this country were given balloon angioplasty or stent replacement to open narrowed arteries after a heart attack. Patients also suffered worse outcomes in this country because not enough were given the right drugs to help them recover after leaving hospital, researchers from University College London found.

The study compared the survival of more than 500,000 heart attack victims treated at 242 hospitals in the UK and 86 hospitals in Sweden between 2004 and 2010. It found death rates within a month of a heart attack were one third higher in the UK - 10.5 per cent compared with 7.6 per cent.

Lead author Professor Harry Hemingway, from the National Institute for Cardiovascular Outcomes Research at University College London, said: “Our findings are a cause for concern. The uptake and use of new technologies and effective treatments recommended in guidelines has been far quicker in Sweden. This has contributed to large differences in the management and outcomes of patients.” The two countries were compared because both record similar data.

The study found that patients in Sweden were far more likely to receive immediate treatment to unblock their arteries. In total, 59 per cent received balloon angioplasty or stent placements, while in the UK, just 22 per cent of patients received such treatments. Swedish patients were also more likely to be prescribed drug treatment on discharge from hospital, with 89 per cent receiving medication such as beta blockers - 11 per cent more than in this country.

Co-author Dr Tomas Jernberg from Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden said: “Our findings suggest that failure to get the best treatment is one likely reason why short-term survival for heart attack patients is lower in the UK. “In particular, we noted that the uptake of primary percutaneous coronary intervention (procedures such as balloon angioplasty or stent placement used to open narrowed coronary arteries) and prescribing of recommended treatments at discharge were lower in the UK than Sweden.

Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Through access to patient health records, researchers have been able to highlight significant differences to heart attack survival rates in the UK and Sweden. “The reasons behind the differing survival rates are complex, but one explanation could be the speed with which the two countries adopted primary angioplasty as an emergency treatment. Sweden’s early adoption meant they saw the benefits quicker and this is reflected in the figures.”

The study covered the period from 2004 to 2010, and Dr Knapton said practice was changing, so that last year the majority of patients in this country received treatment to unblock arteries. He said: “The lesson here for the UK is that we need to be led by the research and introduce pioneering practices quickly and on a large scale.”

Professor Huon Gray, National Clinical Director (Cardiac) at NHS England, said: “The advanced treatment patients now receive in the UK means heart attack death rates have fallen from one in four in the 1970s, to one in twenty now, but we know more needs to be done and we are working hard to further improve survival rates." He said the UK was slower than Sweden to introduce angioplasty between 2004 and 2010, but that there had been rapid uptake of the procedure in the years since.

By Laura Donnelly,

The Telegraph, 23th of January, 2014.


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