The latest figures show the seismic impact of the pandemic on potentially life-saving surgery and other procedures for heart patients.
Around a third fewer heart operations than expected were performed by the end of November 2020 in England, the analysis found. In total, the number of heart operations, such as coronary bypass and heart valve surgery, fell to around 25,000 by the end of the November lockdown from 37,000 during the same period in 2019.
Other invasive heart procedures, such as fitting stents or balloons to open blocked arteries, have been impacted too. In total, around 96,000 fewer heart operations and procedures than expected took place in the year to November 2020 in England compared to the same period in 2019.
Shrinking waiting lists
Paradoxically, surgery and treatment waiting lists are shrinking at the same time as operation and procedure numbers are falling. British Heart Foundation has said that despite the NHS working all hours to prioritise the sickest patients, a lack of available non-Covid care means that fewer people are being added to waiting lists.
There were 39,067 fewer people were on waiting lists for heart operations and procedures at the end of November in England compared to February 2020.
Not only are there fewer people on waiting lists for heart surgery and other procedures, but many of those on them are also having to wait longer. The number of people waiting more than a year in England has soared to 2,800 – 100 times as many as there were in February 2020.
British Heart Foundation believe the latest figures are just ‘the tip of the iceberg,’ with a hidden, larger backlog of heart care left unaccounted for. The charity has warned that more disruption for heart patients is yet to come as Covid-19 admissions soar, resulting in heart surgery and procedures being paused.
Delays to care
Long waits to have or be referred for surgery or treatment can lead to more unnecessary deaths and ill health. Latest figures show there have been more than 5,000 excess deaths from heart diseases and stroke in England since the pandemic began, and delays to care have likely contributed.
British Heart Foundation has said that as soon as the current crisis eases, it is vital that heart services are prioritised, protected and expanded to address the significant backlog of people awaiting treatment and reduced non-Covid care.
British Heart Foundation is supporting calls for the Government to provide the NHS with an extra £900million a year above current levels of funding for six years so it can cope with the extra demand on all services, including cardiovascular care.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, British Heart Foundation’s Associate Medical Director and Consultant Cardiologist, said:
“The NHS is working on overdrive to prioritise all urgent Covid and non-Covid care.
“At the same time, we must not lose sight of people with heart conditions whose planned treatment has been delayed. Surgery and other invasive procedures to treat heart disease are not luxuries that people can easily go without – delaying them can cost lives.
“The significant backlog of people needing heart treatment will keep growing as Covid-19 cases soar. This may only be the tip of the iceberg as the true scale of the disruption to cardiovascular healthcare is still unknown.
“The moment the current crisis abates, we need to urgently address the backlog of people waiting for treatment before it becomes too late for some. To do this, hospitals will inevitably need more and ongoing investment in heart and circulatory disease care.”