Heart failure currently costs the NHS more than £2 billion a year, putting “a massive burden on the NHS”. The British Heart Foundation (BHF), which undertakes research into heart conditions, recently analysed NHS data that show the number of hospital visits for heart failure increased by 36% in the last 10 years. In 2014-2015, there were 146,000 hospital visits for heart failure, (either admissions or attendances at A&E), up from 107,000 in 2004-2005.
In the UK, more than 500,000 people have been diagnosed with heart failure, 75,000 of whom are under 65. The BFH’s analysis shows that the number of people diagnosed with this chronic condition has increased by nearly 10,000 in a year and that someone in the UK suffers a heart attack every three minutes.
Separate figures from GP surgeries in England show that there has been an increase in the numbers of people diagnosed with heart failure from 402,000 to 411,000 in 12 months. The BFH considers that the increase is partly linked to the UK’s ageing population and partly to improved treatment which means that more people are surviving heart attacks.
With considerable improvement in treatments in recent years, particularly the development of acute cardiac units, where patients with suspected heart attacks are fast-tracked to expert teams, seven out of 10 people now survive a heart attack. Those who survive generally do so with weakened cardiac muscles.
Heart failure is an incurable and disabling condition which, in its severest form, can leave sufferers breathless, even when resting, and unable to undertake routine day-to-day activities such as walking upstairs. Prospects for those with severe heart failure can be bleak, with up to a third of those admitted to hospital dying within 12 months.
Despite the improvements in care, the delay in diagnosis and treatment is still an issue. Rapid treatment is key since nearly half of salvageable heart muscle is lost in the first hour after a heart attack. The BHF says that awareness of the symptoms of a heart attack needs to improve. At the moment, half of heart attack sufferers wait more than an hour before seeking assistance and one in 10 ignore their symptoms for more than two days.
Medical errors also play their part where there has been a delay in diagnosis of a heart condition.
Camilla Wonnacott, an associate in Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team, said: “Sadly, we see claims where clients have suffered injury or a client’s loved-one has died as a result of a missed diagnosis of heart failure. If you think that you or a member of your family has sustained an injury arising out of poor cardiac care, we are here to help.”
Click here for more information about the symptoms of heart failure.