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Tom Quinn, Cardiac Services, Dept of Health
"The government has recognised that we are lagging behind"
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Sunday, 27 August, 2000, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
NHS 'lagging behind' on heart treatment
UK patients are less likely to undergo surgery
The UK is falling behind other European countries in the treatment of heart disease, one of the country's biggest killers.

A UK-wide study by a team at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary has found that the level of NHS care for patients suffering from heart conditions is below that provided in Germany, Italy and France.

It found that seriously ill heart patients in the UK have far less chance of receiving proven life-saving treatments than similar patients on mainland Europe.

The research also shows British heart patients are allocated less time in intensive care when recuperating after an operation.

The team, lead by heart specialist Professor Keith Fox, examined data from more than 3,000 patients in 29 countries looking at heart attack victims and those with unstable angina.

Access to new drugs is also an issue
It found that UK hospitals lagged far behind their European counterparts when it came to the provision of the latest diagnostic tests, surgical treatments and drugs such as aspirin and beta blockers.

Heart disease is one of the UK's biggest killers, accounting for around 180,000 deaths each year.

Speaking to the Scotland On Sunday newspaper, Professor Fox said: "This study shows that intervention is lower in the UK than elsewhere in Europe.

"There are differences in the management of heart disease and in the use of the more expensive medical treatments. It is lower in the UK and it is worrying."

Fewer specialists

The study showed that only 2% of heart patients in the UK can expect to be treated with the new "super aspirin" drugs, which have been proven to save lives by preventing blood clots during surgery.

Professor Fox said that over 40% of heart patients in major US centres receive super aspirin, while his study indicated that 34% of German heart attack patients were given the drug.

The study also found that UK patients had the shortest hospital stays with heart attack patients averaging 7.9 days compared with over 11 days in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Professor Stuart Cobbe of Glasgow University said: "Most other European countries have a substantially larger number of doctors and specialists per head of population than we have.

Government pledge

"By and large when patients are treated by specialists they tend to receive more advanced treatments.

"Many patients in UK hospitals are often treated by non-specialists and even if they are treated by specialists, the specialists are hard-pressed and can't offer the same interventions as elsewhere in Europe."

Announcing the establishment of 10 cardiac emergency response teams earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said: "Tackling heart disease is a top priority for this government.

"Alongside cancer, it is one of this country's biggest killers.

"In the long term, we will have more specialist heart disease doctors and more cardiac centres to provide more operations and better care."

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21 Mar 00 | Medical notes
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