11,000 UK deaths from poor heart attack care

heart attackNew research published in the Lancet indicates that thousands of lives could have been saved each year in the UK from heart attacks, but substandard care for victims means that the UK is lagging behind other countries in Europe.

The failure to administer rapid treatment and good quality aftercare has resulted in the loss of at least 11,000 lives in the last seven years, with death rates one third higher than other countries.

The study involved researchers from the UK and Sweden looking at information regarding the care and outcomes of 120,000 heart attack patients across hospitals in Sweden and more than 390,000 in the UK between 2004 and 2010.

Sweden was picked for comparison because its health system is comparable; universally available, receives it’s funding from tax, with no cost at the point of use. Both also have national guidance implemented for heart attack management, although the two countries drastically differ in size with the population in excess of 63 million, whereas Sweden only has a population of between nine and 10 million.

After just 30 days of the occurrence of a heart attack, death rates were discovered to be over a third higher in the UK than Sweden – 10.5% compared with 7.6%.

Over time, the difference in death rates between the two countries decreased, but the UK always had higher mortality, but mortality was always higher in the UK.

Even considering factors like age, sex, the severity of heart attacks, smoking, blood pressure and diabetes, researchers still estimated 11,263 deaths between 2004 and 2010 could have been “delayed or prevented” if patients in the UK had received treatment in the same standard as their Swedish counterparts.

It may also be a concern to learn that the study found patients in Sweden were significantly more like to get quick treatment to help unblock their arteries.

Only 22% of UK patients received balloon angioplasty or stent placements, however a staggering 59% of heart attack patients in Sweden received such treatments.

It gets worse; upon being discharged from hospital, 89% of the Swedish patients were prescribed medications such as beta blockers, with this figure being 11% higher than that in the UK.

Lead author Professor Harry Hemingway, from the National Institute for Cardiovascular Outcomes Research at University College London, said: “Our findings are a cause for concern. The uptake and use of new technologies and effective treatments recommended in guidelines has been far quicker in Sweden. This has contributed to large differences in the management and outcomes of patients.”

NHS England claim that things are improving though, with National Clinical Director for cardiac care, Professor Huon Gray, saying: “The advanced treatment patients now receive in the UK means heart attack death rates have fallen from one in four in the 1970s, to one in 20 now, but we know more needs to be done and we are working hard to further improve survival rates.”

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