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Monday, 6 March, 2000, 13:31 GMT
Pledge to slash heart disease waits
Heart surgery
Targets to be set for heart disease
Health Secretary Alan Milburn has promised in future nobody will wait more than three months for heart surgery.

At present, the maximum waiting time allowed is 18 months. That will initially be cut to six months.

The pledge was included in a raft of measures announced by Mr Milburn on Monday to cut deaths from heart disease and stroke in England by 40% by 2010.

The National Service Framework (NSF) on Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) sets out a 10-year programme to drive up standards of care in the NHS.

The programme will be overseen by a National Heart Director, Dr Roger Boyle, who is chairman of the Speciality Advisory Committee in cardiovascular medicine.
Alan Milburn
Alan Milburn: Heart disease action plan
Mr Milburn said the government was launching a "national crusade" against heart disease.

He said: "The new blueprint will tackle one of our country's biggest killers.

"CHD kills 110,000 people each year - yet many of these deaths are preventable."

The UK has one of the highest death rates from CHD and stroke in Europe. Poor people are particularly hard hit.

Mr Milburn said this was because heart services in the UK had suffered from years of neglect.

He announced the creation by April 2002 of a network of 100 fast track clinics for people suffering from chest pain.

These clinics will ensure that people suspected of suffering from angina can be assessed by a specialist within two weeks of referral by a GP.

Other measures in the NSF include:

  • Community smoking cessation clinics
  • GPs to set up registers of at risk patients
  • At least 80% of heart attack patients discharged from hospital to be prescribed aspirin, beta-blockers or statins
  • Seven hundred defibrillators in public places to help heart attack victims
  • Targets to improve ambulance response times for urgent cases so that 75% of category A patients receive a response within eight minutes
  • Clot-busting drugs to be made available within one hour of a heart attack victim calling for help
Mr Milburn promised that the measures would be backed up by new specialist staff.

He announced 30 new training places for heart surgeons, in addition to the 80 new places to be created over five years that he announced in November.

The health secretary also announced that an extra 50m would be made available to kick-start the campaign.

Every year, more than 1.4 million people in the UK suffer from angina, 300,000 people have heart attacks and 110,000 people die of heart problems.

Ministers hope to involve patients in developing individual action plans for rehabilitation so that they will be better motivated to make progress.

We have huge waiting lists for cardiac surgery so we have to mop that up before we can even start

Jules Dussek, Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons
Mr Jules Dussek, president of the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons, which was consulted prior to publication of the blueprint, warned bringing the UK up to European levels would take time and money.

"You have to bear in mind we have huge waiting lists for cardiac surgery so we have to mop that up before we can even start," he said.

But he said: "If the funding is there, this is a major step forward."

Health Secretary Alan Milburn
"These services have suffered from decades of neglect"
National Heart Director Dr Roger Boyle
"There is a real sense of purpose here"
The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Scores more specialists, thousands more operations"
See also:

06 Mar 00 | Health
Heart pledge: the reaction
06 Mar 00 | Health
Waiting in vain for heart surgery
29 Feb 00 | Health
Doctor exposes heart wait deaths
18 Oct 99 | Health
Milburn meets heart specialists
19 Oct 99 | Health
Heart disease drive: Analysis
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