There were more than 5,800 excess deaths from heart and circulatory diseases in England during the first year of the pandemic. But this could be the “tip of the iceberg” due to a backlog of thousands awaiting procedures and falls in GP referrals and research funding, said the British Heart Foundation Cardiologist Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, the foundation’s associate medical director, said: “The entire pipeline of cardiovascular healthcare has been damaged, from prevention, detection, treatment and recovery through to crucial research.
“This is contributing to a significant and growing backlog of care that threatens to cut more lives short for years to come.” Death rates for cardiovascular diseases have fallen by three-quarters in the last 60 years in the UK. But without action now that progress could be reversed.
The foundation predicts that official figures this autumn will show a rise in the death rate for conditions including heart attacks and strokes in 2020.
Analysis from Public Health England shows there were almost 116,000 deaths from heart and circulatory diseases between March 21, 2020 and February 26 this year.
The figure was around five percent higher than would be expected, with 5,800 excess deaths. Some people will have died with Covid as a contributory factor as heart conditions increase the risk of dying from the virus. It is likely delays to care – both due to suspended services and people being afraid to seek help – also played a role.
There were around 131,000 fewer heart procedures and operations carried out during the first year of the pandemic, and the number of people waiting more than 12 months for treatment increased 180-fold.
The number of patients referred by GPs to a specialist fell by 29 percent in 2020.
Meanwhile, the foundation, which pays for around 55 per-cent of non-commercial heart research in the UK, has been forced to halve its funding to £50million in 2020/21. The charity is urging the Government to provide the NHS with the investment needed to tackle the vast backlog.
It is also calling for investment in research and funding for public health services to prevent heart conditions in the first place.
Dr Babu-Narayan said: “We face a cardiovascular ticking time bomb for the future that could start to reverse six decades of progress in reducing death rates from heart disease and stroke.”
Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS has a plan in place to deal with these backlogs, but it could take years to recover.”
A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to providing timely, high quality care which is why diagnosis and treatment for heart disease patients has remained a top priority.”