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Northern Ireland heart patients missing out on vital rehab care: British Heart Foundation

This essential care is known as cardiac rehabilitation and is a programme of exercise, education and psychological support which research has shown can reduce the risk of dying from heart and circulatory diseases by a quarter (stock photo)
This essential care is known as cardiac rehabilitation and is a programme of exercise, education and psychological support which research has shown can reduce the risk of dying from heart and circulatory diseases by a quarter (stock photo)
Lisa Smyth

By Lisa Smyth

The lives of patients living with heart conditions are being put at risk because they are not getting vital support, it has been claimed.

Research by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has revealed that 51% of heart patients in Northern Ireland are missing out on important recovery care that could prevent them from dying prematurely.

This essential care is known as cardiac rehabilitation and is a programme of exercise, education and psychological support which research has shown can reduce the risk of dying from heart and circulatory diseases by a quarter.

It is recommended for people after a heart attack, heart surgery and coronary angioplasty - a procedure used to widen blocked or narrowed coronary arteries.

It can also be offered to people with angina or heart failure.

However, latest figures have revealed that 68,000 out of 136,000 people eligible for cardiac rehabilitation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland did not get this crucial care in 2017/18.

The BHF's 2019 National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation (NACR) report highlights that while there has been a significant 17% increase in the number of patients accessing the programme in Northern Ireland, the overall uptake is only 43%.

Alarming figures show that only 19% of patients who have had a heart attack and follow a medically managed pathway started a cardiac rehabilitation programme.

The NHS supports cardiac rehabilitation for all eligible patients in Northern Ireland, but the BHF has said current trends indicate that without significant innovation and funding, programmes across Northern Ireland will struggle to meet existing demands.

As a result, thousands of patients won't get the support they need, the charity has said.

BHF NI believes cardiac rehab should be a priority treatment for heart patients and has called for an urgent rethink in the way it is offered and delivered here and across the UK.

Karen McCammon, health service engagement lead for the BHF NI, said: "These figures should give us all pause for thought. We know cardiac rehabilitation can save lives, but the persistently low uptake shows that it isn't accessible or flexible enough to work for everyone.

"It's clear we now need more than 'business as usual'.

"Unless we develop bold new ideas for delivering this recovery care, thousands of people in Northern Ireland will continue to miss out.

"We need more investment in innovative cardiac rehabilitation programmes.

"The Our Hearts, Our Minds programme recently launched in the Western Trust is a great example of this. It has greatly increased cardiac rehabilitation uptake and such successful programmes as these should be developed further."

The charity has also called for more research to identify the reason for the low uptake rates, as well as to develop possible solutions.

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