Heart attack patients aged over 85 are less likely to receive specialist care from a cardiologist in hospital and vital heart medicines after leaving, according to research.
Hospital heart attack death rates have made significant improvements across all age groups in England and Wales, but there are still "worrying" inequalities in heart attack management for the elderly, a study funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has shown.
The Leeds University research, published in the European Heart Journal, showed that the risk of a heart patient dying in hospital almost halved across all age groups between 2003 and 2010. But patients aged 85 or over were less likely than other age groups to receive specialist care from a cardiologist once in hospital and vital heart medicines upon discharge.
Heart attack patients over 85 years old were 75% less likely than the under-55s to receive emergency coronary angioplasty - a procedure to open blocked or narrowed arteries - or clot-busting drugs, the study found.
Patients over 85 were also considerably less likely to receive vital heart drugs such as beta blockers and statins after treatment for a heart attack, it said.
The researchers used data from 255 hospitals in England and Wales, drawn from the management of 616,011 patients.
The study authors said the differences in care were in spite of the elderly comprising up to a third of admissions in England and Wales for acute coronary syndromes, classified as heart attacks and unstable angina.
Dr Chris Gale, of the University of Leeds, who led the research, said the National Service Framework (NSF) for coronary heart disease, a 10-year strategy launched in 2000, had improved heart attack treatment: "The NSF has led the NHS to make great strides in heart attack treatment by ensuring the best proven treatments are available to heart patients across England and Wales," he said.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "Patients should be able to access the treatment and the specialists they need regardless of their age - there's no excuse for the NHS not to be meeting the needs of older people.
"We agree that the National Service Framework has led to great improvements in care. Increasing numbers of older people are having cardiac surgery, and surviving longer. We are developing programmes to focus on improving further and preventing heart problems in older people."