THE number of people calling the British Heart Foundation (BHF)’s helpline has doubled on average since the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), with a spike this week following new lockdown rules.
The charity’s Heart Helpline has received more than 11,000 calls and emails since the beginning of March, with contact reaching four times its normal level at the peak.
This week saw another rise, with email and call volumes 52% higher than the previous week. The spike came after the Prime Minister’s announcement to loosen lockdown rules.
The charity says most helpline callers are concerned about their risk of developing or dying from COVID-19 due to their heart condition, and how safe it is for them to return to work as the lockdown is eased.
People with heart and circulatory diseases are at increased risk from COVID-19, which the charity says is prompting the concern. Heart disease was the most common pre-existing health condition in people who died with COVID-19 during March in England and Wales, according to data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
To meet the unprecedented demand for the service, the charity has extended its helpline opening hours and added to its specialist nursing team.
It is also encouraging its researchers to direct their research efforts into better understanding the effect of COVID-19 on the heart and circulatory system and to investigate potential treatments.
Maureen Talbot, Head of Clinical Support at the BHF and a cardiac nurse on the helpline, said:
“When the pandemic began, our Heart Helpline team saw call numbers rise to our highest recorded levels.
“The uncertainty of the situation, heightened by the changes announced this week, means we can’t answer every question, but we can often reassure people who might feel anxious and provide detailed information about their condition.
“If you’re feeling unwell or concerned about your heart condition, it’s still vital that you use NHS services as you always would. However, our team of nurses are available if you’re trying to understand what the pandemic means for you or the health of a loved one.”
In addition to the helpline, the charity has created a coronavirus hub on its website with information based on the latest evidence about the virus, which has helped more than one million visitors.
With its 750 UK shops closed and fundraising events cancelled, such as its flagship London to Brighton bike ride, Covid-19 is estimated to be costing the BHF around £10 million a month. In a new campaign, the charity is appealing to the public for support in funding its vital helpline and life-saving research.
Maureen Talbot added:
“As soon as we realised the increased need for our support, we expanded the Helpline and are now open seven days a week.
“The service is funded purely by the donations of the public, but like many charities, the pandemic is costing us millions of pounds each month. We’re going to need the backing of the British public more than ever to continue offering this valuable support and funding our life-saving research.”
Grandmother-of-three Liz Timms, 69, from Cambridgeshire, was recently diagnosed with a rare heart condition called an atrial myxoma. This means Liz had a tumour on her heart which can cause blood clots to form and lead to a stroke if not treated urgently. Within days of being diagnosed, she had open-heart surgery to remove it.
Once home from hospital, Liz turned to the BHF’s Heart Helpline after being given a BHF booklet on heart surgery by a nurse.
Liz, who is still recovering at home, said:
“It all happened so quickly, the hospital didn’t want to keep me in any longer than necessary to protect my health. When I got home, I still had questions on my mind and I really needed some support. I just wanted to talk to someone who knew what I had gone through for some reassurance.
“When I spoke to a cardiac nurse on the Heart Helpline, they were fantastic and made me feel a lot better. It was a huge comfort knowing that this service was there if I needed it and to be able to talk to someone with a knowledge of heart issues.
“Until I called the helpline, I didn’t know where to find trustworthy information that would be relevant to what I’d gone through and about my future. It felt like a lifeline.”
The launch of the campaign follows the charity’s urgent plea last month that people continue seeking urgent medical attention by calling 999 if they are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.
To contact the BHF’s Heart Helpline or support the campaign visit www.bhf.org.uk.