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NHS patients waiting up to a year with suspected heart issues

Heart patients across England are waiting months to be seen by a specialist doctor
Heart patients across England are waiting months to be seen by a specialist doctor - FG TRADE

NHS patients are waiting up to a year with suspected heart issues for “rapid access chest pain clinics” when they should be seen within two weeks, GPs have warned.

People experiencing chest pain and suffering from suspected angina, where there is reduced blood flow to the heart muscles, are supposed to be seen within two weeks by urgent clinics introduced more than 20 years ago.

But doctors have said the so-called urgent referral process has become a “national disgrace” and is “unsafe” for patients.

While angina is not immediately life-threatening, quick action is needed because reduced blood flow to the heart puts people at increased risk of a heart attack or stroke, which can be fatal.

Patients across England are waiting months to be seen by a specialist doctor, with some GPs claiming waits are almost a year in their area.

Heart disease has been one of the leading causes of excess deaths since the pandemic, Telegraph analysis has found.

Professor Derek Connolly, council member of the Primary Care Cardiovascular Society and a consultant cardiologist at Birmingham City Hospital, told GP magazine Pulse that while his hospital was meeting the two-week targets, other teams did not have the capacity to meet post-pandemic demand.

“We have long waits for diagnostic tests such as CT because there are not enough scanners. I think it is a national disgrace that this is not being given the priority it should be,” Prof Connelly said.

“In terms of years lost, heart disease is the number one killer and the evidence is we should be getting in early and finding patients who would benefit from treatment. Rapid Access Chest Pain Clinics should be given the same focus as other areas such as cancer and it needs investment.”

Serious harm

There are no publicly available waiting times for rapid access chest pain clinics, but doctors are able to see the wait time when they make an electronic referral.

Dr Dave Triska, a GP in Surrey, said waits in his area were more than four months and would lead to “serious harm”, with some patients being admitted straight to hospital from the clinic because their results were so severe.

Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham, a GP in Manchester, said it was “absolutely not rapid”, with patients waiting up to six months in her area.

Another Manchester-based GP, Dr Steve Taylor, who is also a spokesman for the Doctors’ Association UK, said people were waiting 47 weeks locally.

“Currently referring a person for an assessment of suspected angina and the best locally is 47 weeks and best nationally 15 weeks, 200 miles away,” he told Pulse. “This was and should be two weeks. It is impossible and unsafe for patients and GPs.”

Doctors in London said that the two-week wait had risen to two months and that referrals were being rejected even if they had been referred from A&E.

Dr Irfan Malik, a GP in Nottingham, and Dr Phil Williams, a GP in Lincoln, both said they had started sending patients to A&E or calling 999 if patients had chest pain.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Left unchecked, long waits for time-sensitive heart care can lead to avoidable deaths or disability. It deeply troubles me that delays and cancellations to potentially life-saving heart care are becoming normalised, and almost expected.”

Analysis by the charity found that more than 39,000 people in England died prematurely in 2022 because of cardiovascular conditions, including heart attacks, coronary heart disease and stroke.

That’s an average of 750 people each week and the highest annual total since 2008.

An NHS spokesman: “While the pandemic inevitably had an impact, hard-working NHS staff across the country are making good progress on the NHS’s elective recovery plan, with the overall waiting list for elective care coming down despite significant pressure on services.

“Boosting capacity for cardiac care remains crucial and innovations like surgical hubs,
virtual wards and at-home monitoring devices are helping to increase capacity and speed up treatment for patients, while thousands more people are now being supported to manage high-risk conditions like hypertension and high cholesterol more effectively than before the pandemic, reducing the likelihood of heart attack or stroke.”