30 Times More People Waiting Over 6 Months For Heart Surgery

30 times more people are waiting over six months for heart surgery in Northern Ireland than a year ago, according to analysis by British Heart Foundation (BHF) Northern Ireland.

The latest figures show the seismic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on potentially life saving surgery for heart patients as services were pushed to the limit.

BHF is calling for the backlog of people waiting for surgery, such as coronary bypass and heart valve surgery, to be urgently addressed before it becomes too late for some patients on the list.

Its analysis has revealed:

• 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.

• Between June and December 2020, the number of people waiting over six months for cardiac surgery doubled.

• Between the end of 2019 and the end of 2020, the number of people waiting for cardiac surgery grew by 40 per cent.

The pandemic has seriously affected heart services in Northern Ireland. Surgeries were cancelled and many cardiology services were paused in order to deal with the impact of Covid-19. Long waits to have, or be referred for, surgery or treatment can lead to unnecessary deaths and poorer quality of life.

BHF Head in Northern Ireland Fearghal McKinney said: "Staff across our health service have worked tirelessly for more than a year now to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. In cardiology, services were pulled or dramatically reduced in order to deal with the onslaught of the pandemic, and staff have gone above and beyond since last March. We can’t ask any more of them.

"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.

"Every number on that waiting list is a person with a family worried sick about the future. Many of them are facing anxiety and a worsening quality of life as time goes by. It is important that if your symptoms are worsening whilst you wait that you seek medical advice."

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.

"Heart disease is a major cause of ill health and death in Northern Ireland and the pandemic has only exacerbated the situation. We estimate that around 225,000 people are living with heart and circulatory diseases here and people living with these conditions are at significantly higher risk of serious ill health and death from Covid-19. This past year has been incredibly worrying for them," he said.

"An ambitious, long term, strategic plan, informed by innovative thinking along with significant and recurrent funding for cardiac care will ensure that services build back better. We must see this commitment to cardiac services from the Department of Health in the form of a heart disease strategy."

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