Heart attack victims 'not receiving minimum standard of care'
Heart attack victims are not receiving the minimum standard of patient care in more than two-thirds of follow-up programmes, research has claimed.
A study of 170 cardiac rehabilitation services across England, Wales and Northern Ireland found that only 52 (31%) met the national standard.
Tens of thousands of people are said to rely on such programmes, most of which are based in hospitals, to help them cope with the physical and emotional fall-out of having a heart attack.
The findings were condemned by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), which helped fund the study and accused services of "failing heart patients across the UK".
The research, carried out by the University of York and said to be the first of its kind, found that 46% of programmes were "middle-performance" (78 in total), while 31 (18%) were "low-performance".
Out of the criterias of quality the rehabilitation is required to meet, having a typical waiting time between referral and treatment of 40 days was the one most widely missed, the study found.
Five out of six criterias must be met to achieve the national minimum standard of patient care - also including the duration of the course and its availability to patients from high-priority groups.
Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the BHF, said of the findings, published in Open Heart: "This research shows the worrying extent to which cardiac rehabilitation services are failing heart patients across the UK, putting them at increased risk of having another potentially fatal heart attack.
"These services are paramount in a patient's physical and mental recovery and the programmes which are meeting recommendations help save lives.
"Services across the UK need to ensure that at the very least, they are meeting the basic, minimum national standards of care that every heart attack patient should expect to receive."
Only 16% (27) of the examined programmes managed to reach every one of the minimum standards, while nine (5%) failed to meet any.
Around 66,000 patients used the service in 2014/15, according to data from the National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation.
The BHF said the programmes can ease pressure on hospitals by slashing re-admission rates among heart patients, while also helping prevent deaths.
Professor Patrick Doherty, from the University of York, said: "It is clear from the high-performing programmes that quality service delivery is achievable.
"It is possible that many of the mid-level performing programmes could improve if more patients were assessed and rehabilitation was delivered earlier. The worry is that programmes that are failing to meet any of the standards are perhaps beyond repair."
An NHS England spokesman said: "Immediate and long-term survival rates after a heart attack are improving thanks to advances in treatment and aftercare. The bar keeps increasing for the standard of care the NHS seeks to offer, and these data show the state of play two years ago."