Heart surgery and other heart procedures fall by 39%
There were 39% fewer heart operations and other heart procedures performed in January in England compared to January last year, according to analysis of NHS data by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
The figures reveal that January saw the biggest drop in the number of performed heart operations and procedures since the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020. The number of heart operations and procedures fell from around 40,800 in January 2020 to just over 25,000 in January 2021.
The figures highlight that potentially life saving treatment for heart patients continues to be disrupted by the pandemic. Examples of disrupted heart operations include coronary artery bypass, heart valve and congenital heart disease surgery, while affected invasive procedures may include stents or balloons to open blocked arteries, and procedures to treat heart valve disease, such as a TAVI (transcatheter aortic valve implantation).
At the same time, 150 times more people were waiting over a year for heart surgery and other heart procedures at the end of January 2021 in England compared to before the pandemic began, the NHS statistics show. More than 4,200 people in England were waiting a year or more for their heart procedure this January, compared to just 28 people in February 2020.
The data also reveals that despite fewer referrals and diagnostic tests, the waiting list for heart operations and procedures has grown to over 200,000 people for the first time since February 2020, before the pandemic began.
As the pressure on hospitals from COVID-19 lessens, the BHF said that resuming ‘routine’ heart operations and procedures across the country is now an immediate need. When people with heart disease wait longer for treatment, their condition could worsen, which increases their risk of preventable death. Latest figures show there have been over 5,000 excess deaths from heart diseases and stroke in England since the pandemic began, and delays to care have likely contributed.
Dr. Sonya Babu-Narayan, the BHF’s associate medical director and consultant cardiologist, said: “The longer the pandemic continues, the longer people with heart conditions are waiting for the vital and potentially life saving treatment they need.
“We have already seen an average of 100 extra heart and stroke deaths a week in England, but the pandemic’s true toll on people with heart and circulatory diseases could be far greater and be felt for years to come. The pressure from COVID-19 may be lessening, but the backlog of cardiovascular care continues to grow, and must be urgently addressed. This is a significant but surmountable challenge that will require a clear plan and commitment to enough investment, now and in the long term."