Waiting list for cardiac rehab increased by 54 per cent since 2013

Staff available to provide service has almost halved, Irish Heart Foundation warns

The number of people awaiting cardiac rehabilitation has increased by 54 per cent in the last eight years while the number of staff available to provide the service has almost halved, the Irish Heart Foundation has warned.

Rehab services require a team of specialist nursing staff, pharmacists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, smoking cessation specialists and cardiologists.

However, citing research it carried out with the Irish Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation (IACR), the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) said not a single hospital in Ireland has a full team in place.

“The cardiac rehab waiting list for heart attack, stroke and heart failure patients has exceeded 2,800 – a 54 per cent increase since 2013 – while staffing levels have plummeted by 40 per cent,” it said on Tuesday.


Its medical director Dr Angie Brown said that while once a world class service, it is now treated as an optional add-on. The treatment is accredited with reducing heart disease deaths by 20 per cent.

The research claims 77 per cent of rehab centres closed for some time during the pandemic - most of them for over 12 weeks.

“HSE recruitment embargoes and chronic under-investment have stripped it bare,” Dr Brown said. “Nurses are being transferred to other work and not being replaced and even though it’s an essential service, none of our hospitals have all the expertise in place to deliver high quality cardiac rehabilitation.”

Just seven of the 35 cardiac rehabilitation centres surveyed for the research have access to a psychologist, while 12 did not have a physiotherapist.

Key staff

It also noted that 33 centres are missing four or more key staff and that since 2013 cardiac specialist nurses were transferred to other duties from 11 of the centres.

In addition, the IHF said 40 per cent of patients are now waiting at least three months for rehab when they should be starting courses weeks after hospital discharge.

Dr Brown said the service is a lifeline for people dealing with physical and psychological effects of heart attacks.

“The number of patients going in is rising but staffing is down 40 per cent,” she said. “Lack of investment also creates a false economy as the failure to provide a full range of care is impacting on patients who are more likely to end up back in hospital for treatment.”

The HSE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times