Research funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and carried out by two universities has found that around 33,000 deaths were avoidable if heart attack patients had been treated according to recommended international guidelines.

According to the BHF, someone in the UK suffers a heart attack every three minutes and almost 200 people die every week as a result.

The researchers reviewed patient records and data from the National Heart Attack Register over 10 years. The study looked at nearly 400,000 cases of non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI). This is the most common type of heart attack in the UK and involves a partial disruption of the blood supply to the heart, rather than the blood supply being lost altogether. Data from almost 250 hospitals were considered.

The report concludes that opportunities to treat people after they had suffered a heart attack were being routinely missed. In a majority of cases, heart attack patients had not been given all the treatments and other interventions set out in the guidelines.

There are 13 recommended treatments which include scans and prescribing certain drugs. These drugs include relatively inexpensive anti-cholesterol statins, drugs to lower blood pressure and anti-clotting medication, all of which are known to significantly reduce the risk of a further heart attack. Many failed also to advise patients of the lifestyle changes they could make over the longer-term to reduce their risk of further attacks, such as exercising, changing diet and stopping smoking.

Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team comments: “This report is extremely worrying. It suggests that a staggering nine out of every 10 heart attack victims are not being treated in accordance with the international guidelines. It is inconceivable that this has not led to deaths that could have been avoided. Indeed, the researchers suggest that their study may well under-estimate the number of deaths cause by this poor care.

“Survival rates following heart attacks have greatly improved in recent years but it is unacceptable that the NHS is failing huge numbers of patients by not providing relatively straightforward and cost-effective care that research has shown to work. This needs to be addressed urgently.”