Sunday, 21 April 2024
Sunday, 21 April 2024

Demand soars for BHF Heart Helpline amid record care delays

DEMAND for the British Heart Foundation’s information and support Helpline has soared amid ongoing delays to people’s heart care.

The leading heart charity says it has had to double the number of cardiac nurses available to work on its Heart Helpline to cope with the rising demand.

The BHF reported a 40 per cent surge in contacts between December 2023 and February 2024 compared to the same period last year, with the number of people getting in touch at an all-time high of 7,858 during these months.

In February alone, there was a 75 per cent increase in people calling, emailing or making live chat enquiries compared to the previous year, bringing the total number of contacts to 3,559 up from 2,029 in February 2023.

Many people contacting the Helpline raised concerns at not being able to get a diagnosis or an appointment for a heart problem or are worried about new or changing symptoms.

Latest figures show over 400,000 people were waiting for a heart test, operation, or other heart procedure at the end of January in England – a rise of 75 per cent since February 2020. It’s estimated that there are tens of thousands more waiting for a GP referral, regular check-ups with a specialist, or aftercare such as cardiac rehabilitation.

Not knowing the symptoms of heart problems can also lead to delays in people seeking urgent medical help for conditions like heart attacks and strokes.

Chloe MacArthur, Helpline Nurse Lead at the BHF, said:

“Our Heart Helpline has never been busier. More people than ever are in desperate need of support – whether they have a heart problem or want to help someone who does.

“It’s concerning that so many people we speak to are facing stressful and often frightening delays to their time-sensitive heart care. Just last month, someone told us they are facing a 72-week wait for heart surgery, which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. We’re also hearing that people are putting off seeking help because they don’t know the symptoms of potentially life-threatening heart and circulatory conditions.

“We are here to help anyone who wants answers during these uncertain times. We’ve got more nurses available to work on our Helpline, so we’re ready to support anyone by phone, email or live chat.”

There are 7.6 million people across the UK with a heart or circulatory disease, such as a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.

The BHF’s Heart Helpline is staffed by experienced cardiac nurses who can answer your questions or concerns about heart health, from helping to understand medical jargon, to offering diet and lifestyle information.

The BHF also has a wealth of information on its website, as well as its own free online community supported by HealthUnlocked for people with heart and circulatory diseases to share experiences and get support from one another.

The charity has also launched its Hearts Need More campaign to raise awareness of delays in heart care. It asks politicians of all parties to prioritise cardiovascular disease care in the run-up to the next general election, and when a new Government is formed.

Faith’s story

A 22-year-old fitness coach from Little Minsterly, Shropshire, has praised the support she received from the BHF after having a heart attack.

On January 6, 2024, avid gym goer Faith Harrison was feeling fit and healthy when she drove over an hour to Stafford to play in a hockey match. She played well, assisting in two goals and sprinting around the pitch.

It wasn’t until after the match that she started to feel strange, but she never considered it might be something to do with her heart.

Faith said:

“After the match, I just didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t feel sick or ill, just not like me. I got in my car to drive home and about 30 minutes in, my arm just went numb and tingly, and my chest went very tight like someone was sitting on it.

“I did wonder if something serious was going on, but I could speak and move so I thought I was ok. I never thought it could have been to do with my heart.

“I decided to drive to my parent’s house as it was closer than mine. Somehow, I got there, but as soon as I walked in, I said ‘something is wrong’. My parents, my partner Sam, and I all thought my blood sugar was low, but I violently vomited up anything they tried to give me.

“My dad rang 999, but the call handler said it was probably anxiety or a panic attack. By this time, I knew something was seriously wrong, so Sam and my dad took me to A&E at the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford.”

Doctors told Faith she needed to be taken by ambulance to Royal Stoke University Hospital, the nearest heart centre. There, tests revealed a blood clot was blocking one of Faith’s coronary arteries by 90%, and that she had been having what’s known as a ‘widow-maker’ heart attack for the last seven hours. She was lucky to be alive.

Faith was also diagnosed with a patent foramen ovale (PFO), a small hole between the top two chambers of the heart which usually closes after birth. In very rare cases, a PFO can allow a normally harmless blood clot to reach a coronary artery and create a blockage, leading to a heart attack.

Faith had an emergency thrombectomy, a procedure to remove a blood clot from an artery. Unfortunately, the damage to Faith’s heart during her attack was so severe that she now has heart failure. This is a condition which means the heart doesn’t pump blood around the body effectively.

Faith added:

“Having the heart attack and being told I have heart failure has been life-changing. I had business goals, I had fitness goals, I had life goals. Now my goals are very different because my physical and mental health has changed so much.

“It’s been comforting to know the British Heart Foundation is there for me whenever I need it as a resource of support. Their leaflets were a lifeline to me in hospital, and I’ve used the Heart Helpline to learn more about cardiac rehabilitation. I also want to thank the cardiologists at Royal Stoke University Hospital for taking such good care of me.”

As a thank you to the BHF, Faith raised an incredible £250 from her hospital bed which will help to fund the charity’s lifesaving research into heart and circulatory conditions.

Faith said:

“What happened to me was rubbish, but I’ve been given a second chance and I want to do something with it. For me, I want to raise awareness with young people that they’re not invincible and tell them not to take life for granted.

“Everyone, even young people, needs to learn the symptoms of a heart attack so they don’t delay seeking help. It could be lifesaving. It’s also vital that healthcare professionals don’t assume that young people can’t have heart attacks. I’m living proof that they do.”

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