Page last updated at 23:02 GMT, Sunday, 14 September 2008 00:02 UK

Heart care failings 'across UK'

Woman having her blood pressure taken
Patients are advised on areas such as how to lower high blood pressure

Every cardiac rehabilitation service in the UK is understaffed, the British Heart Foundation has warned.

The programmes are reckoned to boost five-year survival rates by about 26% by giving medical and lifestyle advice.

But a national audit found that no service was meeting minimum staffing levels - and three out of five patients who need rehab could not access it.

The NHS Confederation, which represents managers, said the report would help local areas provide a better service.

We will continue to fail heart patients unless the government and health professionals prioritise funding for this life-saving treatment
Professor Bob Lewin, report author

Cardiac rehabilitation programmes last for around 12 weeks and involve nurses, physiotherapists, dieticians, psychologists and occupational therapists.

Patients are offered advice and support in areas such as how to increase physical activity levels safely, how to return to normal daily activities and work and how to tackle risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking, obesity and diabetes.

It is designed for patients who have experienced a range of cardiac disease including heart failure, heart attacks, heart bypass and angina.

Heart experts estimate that around half a million patients could benefit from cardiac rehab each year - but less than half that figure do so.

'Below target'

In 2000, the government said 85% of patients who had heart attacks or a heart bypass in England should be offered cardiac rehabilitation, which costs around 600 per person.

The audit found London has the lowest rate of cardiac rehab for heart attack patients, treating only 31%, while in the best performing area - the north east - the audit found the figure was still only 52%.

And it found that the average patient receives just 79% of the recommended nursing time, 36% of the physiotherapy and just 16% of the professional dietetic support required to meet health service guidelines.

Primary care trusts have the difficult job of balancing priorities
NHS Confederation spokesman

Professor Bob Lewin at the BHF Cardiac Care and Education Research Group who compiled the report, said: "Cardiac rehab allows people to have longer and better quality lives.

"We will continue to fail heart patients unless the government and health professionals prioritise funding for this life saving treatment."

Mike Knapton, director of prevention and care at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Cardiac rehabilitation saves lives but the majority of patients don't get the service.

"We are only making minimal progress towards national targets set over eight years ago.

"The health service needs to give cardiac rehabilitation the same priority they give to treating people with acute heart attacks."

A spokesman for the Primary Care Network of the NHS Confederation said "real progress" had been made in improving coronary heart disease treatment and in cutting deaths since 2000.

But he added: "The report helpfully identifies local areas where more progress needs to be made in the development of cardiac rehabilitation programmes.

"Primary care trusts have the difficult job of balancing priorities for investment in healthcare but they will want to review this report in setting their local health investment plans.


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