Heart patients in England have to wait more than a year for treatment

Fifteen hospitals across England have more than 200 patients each waiting longer than a year for heart procedures, NHS figures show.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) warns that there are now waiting lists for heart care at a record high, which reached 414,596 in England at the end of March 2024, almost double what it was in 2020. The number of people waiting more than a year for heart tests and treatments has risen to 10,893. Four years ago that was only 53.

Graph: The waiting list for heart care is at a record high and has almost doubled in three years

Dr. Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Professor at the BHF, said: “I find it deeply worrying that record numbers of heart patients are on the waiting list and they are waiting longer than ever.

“This counteracts the trend of declining waiting lists, while we know that heart care cannot wait. Failure to get the right heart test, treatment or surgery at the right time could lead to a preventable heart attack, incurable heart failure or premature death.”

NHS England says it is working to reduce the longest waiting times for patients. The latest waiting list figures for March show that 974 patients at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust are waiting longer than a year for cardiology services; 526 patients waiting longer than a year at West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust; and 454 patients waiting longer than a year at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

An analysis of the BHF published in January found that the number of people dying from cardiovascular disease before the age of 75 in England has risen to the highest level in a decade. In 2022, more than 39,000 people in England died prematurely from cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks, coronary heart disease and stroke – an average of 750 people per week. It reported the annual total number of deaths as the highest since 2008.

The BHF says pressure on NHS care is one of many factors contributing to premature deaths from cardiovascular disease. The charity says the health service must focus on better preventing heart disease and stroke, prioritizing NHS heart care and “boosting” cardiovascular research.

Cardiovascular disease causes a quarter of all UK deaths and is the biggest cause of premature deaths in deprived areas. NHS England says it’s the single largest area where it can save lives for the next ten years.

Chart: NHS trusts with long waiting times for cardiology services in England

Rishi Sunak promised to cut NHS waiting lists in England when he identified five priority areas for his government in January last year. The overall waiting list for treatment has fallen slightly this year, but is still higher than when he made his commitment: the waiting list for planned treatment stood at 7.54 million in March 2024.

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “NHS staff have made significant progress in reducing some of the longest waits for care that have occurred during the pandemic. The waiting time of more than 65 weeks for cardiological treatment has fallen by 40% since March 2023.”

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A spokesperson for University Hospitals Sussex said: “We are one of the largest trusts in the country, delivering cardiology services from all four of our main hospital sites. Over the past year, colleagues have worked incredibly hard to deliver additional clinics, maximize the use of community diagnostic centers and improve processes, reducing our waiting lists by almost 20%.”

West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said cardiology patients with urgent assessment were being seen by rapid access teams, but those with non-urgent problems had to wait. A spokesperson said: “There was a 16% increase in GP referrals for routine cardiology appointments over the past year, and demand is exceeding capacity for these cases. We have taken a number of measures to further improve services.”

Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust has been contacted for comment.