Study shows heart attack care varies widely across the country

13 July 2016        

A person clasping their hands over their heart

The care received by patients after suffering a life-altering type of heart attack varies widely across the country, according to a 10 year study that we've part-funded.

The study looked at the frequency of missed opportunities to treat people after a heart attack and has been published in the scientific journal BMJ Open.

A BHF-funded team of researchers from the University of Leeds used data from the UK National Heart Attack Register to analyse the 357,228 cases of non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI), the most common type of heart attack, in 232 hospitals in England between 1st Jan 2003 and 30th Jan 2013. 

Treatment guidelines

The team looked at 13 treatments that guidelines recommend be considered for patients who have suffered from an NSTEMI, where blood supply to the heart is limited rather than completely cut off. They assessed how often these treatments were given and compared this with whether guidelines at that time suggested that they were appropriate.

They then mapped each patient record to individual Strategic Clinical Networks (SCNs), Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and hospitals across the country. The team found that the standard of care varied widely across the country.

What did the study show?

Most of the variation in care was due to differences in the delivery of heart attack treatments between hospitals. Dr Chris Gale, Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Health Sciences at the Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine, who led the research, said:

"The variations in the level of heart attack treatments that we’ve seen have remained the same even after accounting for differences in how the disease affected people differently. This would seem to suggest that they were caused by differences in hospital infrastructure or the availability of specialist care, both of which are possible to address."

The researchers also found that the level of care received by patients in a specific region rose and fell over time, meaning that no one region consistently delivered a dependable standard of care. The research did, however, show that overall there were substantial improvements in care over time.

Hospitals need to apply guidelines

Someone suffers a heart attack approximately every three minutes in the UK, with nearly 200 people of working age dying every week of a heart attack in the UK. But heart attack treatments have improved dramatically since we were founded and first funded research to improve survival.

Commenting on the findings, our Medical Director, Professor Peter Weissberg, said:

"The study shows there is much room for improvement. All hospitals should review their guidelines and ensure that they are appropriately applied to all patients. Applying clinical guidelines in heart disease costs little and in the long-term saves money and, most importantly, saves lives."

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