Half of heart patients miss out on life-saving recovery care

Half of heart patients in the UK are missing out on vital recovery care that could prevent them dying prematurely, according to a new report from the British Heart Foundation.

Cardiac rehabilitation is recommended for people after a heart attack, coronary angioplasty and heart surgery, and is also available to some people with angina or heart failure. However, the latest figures reveal that 68,000 out of 136,000 people eligible for cardiac rehabilitation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland did not receive this crucial care in 2017/18, according to the 2019 National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation (NACR) report.

While there has been important progress in improving the quality of this recovery care, the uptake rate has remained at around 50% year-on-year. This is far below ambitious goals to improve rates across the UK. For example, NHS England aims for 85% of eligible patients to take part in cardiac rehab programmes by 2028, as laid out in its Long Term Plan.

The British Heart Foundation warned this goal would not be reached unless cardiac rehab is made a priority treatment for heart patients.

John Maingay, Director of Policy and Influencing, at the British Heart Foundation, said: “These figures should give us all pause for thought. We know cardiac rehabilitation can save lives, but the static uptake rate suggests that it isn’t accessible or flexible enough to work for everyone, or that its benefits are not being clearly enough explained to patients.

“It’s clear we now need more than ‘business as usual’. Unless we develop bold new ideas for promoting and delivering this recovery care, tens of thousands of people will continue to miss out.

“More tailored cardiac rehab choices need to be made available, so that patients can choose the best option for their preferences, motivations and needs.”

Evidence from clinical trials suggests that programmes focused around the person rather than the service, such as through a digital or home-based programme, can be as successful as group-based programmes. Yet fewer than one in ten cardiac rehab patients are taking up home-based options, compared to three in four that are attending group-based sessions. 

Professor Patrick Doherty, Director of the National Audit for Cardiac Rehabilitation, said: “For many people, group-based cardiac rehab works. However it’s crucial we don’t rely on a one-size-fits-all approach.

“To see a significant rise in people taking up this vital recovery, we want to see cardiac rehabilitation designed around people’s needs that give them access to a range of options that work for them, including home-based and digital programmes."