People hit by heart attack ‘waiting too long’ to reach hospital

Patients presenting with severe cardiac damage not seen in 40 years, say specialists

At University Hospital Galway, research has found a fall of about one-third in the number of stents and similar interventions carried out in all hospitals during the lockdown. File photograph: Getty

At University Hospital Galway, research has found a fall of about one-third in the number of stents and similar interventions carried out in all hospitals during the lockdown. File photograph: Getty

 

Heart attack patients are taking an average of 18 additional hours to present to hospital, thereby placing themselves at massively increased health risk, according to specialists.

Doctors say that with patients presenting with late complications of heart attack during the lockdown, they are treating types of severe cardiac damage not seen in up to 40 years since the development of modern cardiac procedures.

More than 9,000 urgent cardiac care procedures did not take place during the lockdown due to patients’ fear of Covid-19, they estimate. Moreover, many could die if they continue to forgo treatment.

Dr Samer Amous, a consultant cardiologist at University Hospital Limerick (UHL), who has calculated the average delay in seeking treatment over recent months, says the hospital did 60 fewer urgent cardiac procedures during the lockdown.

These included fitting pacemakers or stents and angiograms, neither of which should be delayed due to a much increased risk of permanent, life debilitating damage or death. 

Extrapolating UHL’s figure across the busiest eight public hospitals focusing on cardiac care, as well as five private hospitals, he estimates cardiac presentations fell by 50-80 per cent and 9,360 urgent procedures did not take place during the height of pandemic.

“Some hospitals may differ in either direction, but when you average it out, 9,000-plus cases gives us a very good indication of the number of patients who urgently needed treatment and would have received life-changing, if not life-saving cardiac care had Covid-19 not arisen,” said Dr Arnous. 

“We also know that 25 per cent of patients with serious valve disease will die within three to six months if untreated,” he added. “Due to Covid-19 we are already three months delayed in treating patients, but working extremely hard to make up for lost time.”

‘Presenting with late complications’

At University Hospital Galway, research has found a fall of about one-third in the number of stents and similar interventions carried out in all hospitals during the lockdown. This number does not include elective cardiac procedures, many of which are clinically urgent, according to William McEvoy, professor of preventive cardiology at NUI Galway.

“We have seen patients presenting with late complications of heart attacks during lockdown: patients suffered the type of severe damage we wouldn’t have seen in up to 40 years since the advent of modern cardiac medicine in the 1980s,” he added.

“We will only understand the full extent of the problem in the next few months when we start to see patients who would have normally been seen during lockdown.”

Patients’ minds need to be reprogrammed from “#Stayhome to #Justgo instead,” he said.

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