Cardiac patients have died while waiting for surgery as the number of people languishing on waiting lists has rocketed during the pandemic, a leading charity has said.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) said official figures have laid bare the “seismic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on potentially life-saving surgery for heart patients”.
The charity has warned urgent action is required to tackle the backlog of people who need operations such as coronary bypass and heart valve surgery, warning some people have already died while time is running out for others.
Analysis from BHF has revealed that at the end of 2020, there were 30 times as many people waiting over six months for cardiac surgery compared to the same period in 2019.
At the end of 2020 there were 90 people waiting over six months for cardiac surgery compared to just three people at the end of 2019.
Between June and December 2020, the number of people waiting over six months for cardiac surgery doubled. Meanwhile, between the end of 2019 and the end of 2020, the number of people waiting for cardiac surgery grew by 40% from 179 to 252.
Fearghal McKinney, head of BHF NI, said: “Heart operations are not something that people can easily go without — delaying them can cost lives.
“The significant backlog of people needing heart surgery will keep growing as there are also significant numbers of people waiting for cardiology referrals and many of these are likely to require surgery.
“That waiting list will only get longer and make no mistake, as this goes on people will die on that waiting list or will have died already.”
BHF NI has convened a panel of clinicians, academics and patients to develop a heart disease strategy for Northern Ireland.
Mr McKinney said that a dedicated heart disease strategy, informed by the lessons learned during the pandemic, is needed to tackle one of Northern Ireland's biggest killers.
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “It isn’t right that any patient should wait longer than is clinically appropriate for treatment and I fully understand the distress and anxiety that long waiting times cause.”
Mr Swann said he will shortly publish an elective care framework which will set out the actions required to address waiting lists.