Heart failure admissions have reached record levels in England, rising from 65,025 in 2013/14 to 86,474 in 2018/19 – a 33 per cent increase. This is three times as fast as all other hospital admissions, which have risen by 11 per cent in the same period.
The rise in hospital admissions is reflective of the increasing numbers of people living with heart failure in the UK. It’s estimated that around 920,000 people have the condition and it’s placing a greater burden on the health service than the four most common cancers combined. With heart failure patients staying in hospital for around 10 days – double the average of five days for all diagnoses – this is putting immense pressure on the NHS.
Several factors could be contributing to the rise in people living with heart failure, including an ageing and growing population, growing numbers of heart attack survivors and stubbornly high rates of people living with heart failure risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Research also suggests that nearly eight in 10 people with heart failure are diagnosed after a hospital admission, even though four in 10 had visited their GP in the previous five years with symptoms such as breathlessness, swollen ankles and exhaustion.
The BHF warns that the figures highlight the significant challenge this currently incurable condition poses to the NHS, and says improved ways of detecting, diagnosing and managing heart failure are urgently needed along with more innovative models of care.
The charity has also called for greater access to specialist blood tests and heart scans for GPs to help diagnose heart failure earlier.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, British Heart Foundation’s Medical Director, said:
“Heart failure poses a growing and increasingly complex challenge, not only for people living with the condition but for those who care for them too. It’s concerning to see yet another increase in hospital admissions – an indication that how we diagnose, treat and care for these patients could be far better.
“There is no cure for heart failure, but with access to the right services and support, people can go on to have a good quality of life for many years. We need to find new and improved ways of delivering this care, including in communities rather than hospitals. Doing so will improve thousands of lives and relieve the unsustainable pressure that heart failure is putting on our health service.”
To address the growing burden of heart failure, the BHF has launched the new £1million Hope for Hearts Fund to test innovative ways of caring for people with heart failure. Innovations could include more effective use of technology and data, new service models or new ways of engaging people in their own care.
The charity is funding more than £41 million of heart failure research, including in regenerative medicine which could lead to new treatments for heart failure. It is also working closely with NHS England to improve the early diagnosis and treatment of heart failure – two priorities set out in the NHS’s Long Term Plan.
Professor Samani added: “Our research aims to harness the potential of regenerative medicine to reverse and cure heart failure, but it is going to take some time before it can help people with heart failure.
“In the meantime, we need to raise greater awareness of the devastating impact of heart failure, and ensure everyone affected receives a quick diagnosis and the best standard of care.”
“Innovative initiatives like our Hope for Hearts Fund will help find new and improved ways of caring for people with heart failure that could rapidly lead to a better quality of life for many thousands of people.”
Change of life
It should have been the happiest time of her life. But four days after giving birth, mum-of-two Jo Ward, of Sheffield, had a heart attack aged just 30. It was the result of a rare heart condition called spontaneous coronary artery dissection or SCAD, which is most common in women under 50.
Emergency heart bypass surgery saved her life, and Jo, now 45, assumed she had been “fixed”. But after struggling to pick up her newborn or do everyday chores like vacuuming, the devastating news came that she’d developed heart failure.
A combination of medication and a pacemaker has restored some of her quality of life, helping her to avoid a heart transplant. However, in September, she was admitted to hospital again for open-heart surgery to remove two blood clots from her heart – a complication caused by her heart failure.
She said: “Heart failure really changed things for me. I went from full-time work to no work. I couldn’t do any physical exercise. I couldn’t go swimming with [youngest son] Tyler and teach him how to ride a bike or how to swim.
“After my CRT-D pacemaker [a special pacemaker for heart failure] was fitted, I noticed slowly but surely that I was able to do much more. My energy levels came up. I still get breathless but not to the extent that I did before. I am not as tired now, and I don’t have to worry about water retention.
“My boys are fully aware of my condition – I’ve never hidden anything from them. They love me for who I am. When I had my pacemaker changed recently, I was in and out of hospital in a day and my sons knew why. But to them, I’m not someone with heart failure – I’m just mum.”