Half of UK heart attack patients missing out on lifesaving aftercare

18 January 2018        

Category: Survival and support

Thousands of heart attack patients are missing out on cardiac rehabilitation following a heart attack, increasing their risk of suffering another heart attack, according to new figures published today.

Cardiac rehab nurse

The National Audit of Cardiac Rehab (NACR), shows that around 68,000 heart patients missed out on cardiac rehabilitation in 2015/16 –  nearly half (49%) of those who were eligible. The NACR also found that patients from more deprived areas were less likely than those in more affluent areas to take part in the rehab.

Women left behind

The report also showed a concerning disparity in uptake among men and women, with 52% of eligible men taking part in a rehab programme compared to just 44% of eligible women. 

Even for those that are referred, there is often a delay, with 49% of eligible heart attack and angioplasty patients having to wait longer than the recommended 28 days to start a rehabilitation programme.  

Physical and mental health benefits

Cardiac rehabilitation offers patients physical, emotional and lifestyle support, including exercise classes and dietary advice, to help them lower their risk of a future heart attack. Research has shown that participation reduces the risk of dying by 18% in the 6-12 months following referral and can cut readmissions by nearly a third (31%). 

Thousands still at risk

But despite improvements in the number of people participating over the last decade with uptake in the UK reaching over 50 per cent for the second year running, the heart charity warns that a low level of uptake is needlessly putting heart patients’ lives at risk and putting avoidable pressure on a stretched NHS.  

Our Chief Executive Simon Gillespie said:

“It is hugely encouraging that overall more patients are accessing cardiac rehabilitation services but half of heart attack survivors are still missing out on this potentially lifesaving service. Tens of thousands of people are therefore at greater risk of suffering another deadly heart attack.

“As many women as men have heart attacks, so it is particularly concerning that significantly fewer women are accessing these life-saving services.

“‘A postcode lottery of care is also evident with dangerous waiting times to access services in some areas of the country. This urgently needs to be addressed so that every patient has access to cardiac rehabilitation to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.”

The authors – based at the University of York - say it’s crucial to better understand patients’ individual preferences for participating in rehab programmes and barriers that prevent them from enrolling. In particular, the NHS should promote programmes of home, web and community-based cardiac rehab that better take account for patient preferences with tailored options around age, gender and ethnicity.

Find out more about cardiac rehab