The research, published in the European Heart Journal, Quality Care and Clinical Outcomes has fuelled calls for an urgent reform of the post covid NHS system to avoid more deadly delays and cancellations. It forms part of a series of heart studies led by researchers at Keele, Leeds and Oxford universities for the government backed National Institute of Cardiovascular Outcomes Research, (NICOR). These studies have previously included an analysis showing there were 2,000 extra deaths from cardiovascular diseases during lockdown.
It follows a recent report showing over the next five years nearly 75,000 people could die from non-covid- health problems due to lack of timely care including missed cancer diagnosis, cancelled operations and the health impacts of recession.
The new study – which compared the numbers of heart procedures carried out over the same period last year – showed there were 19,637 fewer coronary angiogram investigations during lockdown. This is a common test for heart conditions.
The analysis for England, which was carried out with researchers at eight other centres including University College London, Papworth Hospital in Cambridge and London’s Barts Hospital, showed there was also a drop in vital or life saving operations.
This included 10,453 fewer pacemakers fitted, 6,257 less stents implanted, 2,800 fewer bi-pass operations, 2,589 fewer surgical valve procedures, and 217 fewer hole in the heart repairs.
Professor Mamas Mamas, lead author from Keele University said: “The fall in the numbers of procedures carried out will have an impact on mortality I have no doubt, for example we calculate that potentially up to 300 patients have already died because of the fact they have not had a surgical valve implanted during this period.”
He also warned more deaths would occur unless the system is reformed: “Many people thought there would be a return to normal activity after the first lockdown but this is not feasible because we are entering a second wave and elective surgical procedures are still being cancelled, ITU’s are being filled with Covid patients and cardiology intensive care beds or staff are being converted.
“It’s seven months on from the start of the pandemic and this should not be happening. We know patients can catch coronavirus in hospitals and this can be particularly deadly for heart patients.
“We need to restructure our services by developing covid and non covid hospital centres so we can push through time critical operations or treatments, for example in the treatment of patients with cancer and heart problems. We know other countries such as China managed to do this. We need to act now.”
He added: “We already have a large waiting list of patients. It’s no good waiting for a magic vaccine. We don’t know if or when or if an effective vaccine will come or how quickly the virus mutates making any new vaccine less effective down the line.
“This means we may be in the same situation during a 3rd, 4th and 5th wave. We need to fundamentally restructure the service because this virus is not going away soon. We need to do something that works, protect those at greatest risk and not keep locking down which affects our ability to deliver care, deters people from seeking help, and ultimately means destroying the economy which won’t be able to properly fund the health service as a result.
“This is a bigger problem than people realise and just doing the same thing won’t work.”
An NHS spokesman said: “The NHS continued to offer treatment for urgent and routine heart problems throughout the pandemic and the number of people seeking emergency care quickly rebounded during the first wave, after some people had initial concerns about coming forward for care.
“Going into the second wave, hospitals are continuing to redesign services so that care can go ahead safely, including separating covid and non covid care, and the new deal with the independent sector means that patients will benefit from quick access to tests and treatment.”