Britain’s coronavirus lockdown led to an extra 3,600 deaths from preventable heart conditions and strokes, a top expert warned today.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, revealed the chilling figures in a virtual House of Lords meeting.
The cardiologist claimed 700 Britons unexpectedly died, from a cardiac event or condition, such as heart attacks and strokes, each week at the height of the pandemic.
In a desperate attempt to prevent another wave of avoidable deaths in the event of a second wave, she has begged the public not to delay getting help out of fear they will add pressure to an already over-stretched NHS.
Speaking to the Lords Science and Tech committee, she said: ‘Patients need clarity about which things they should not delay, so the health service can protect them, rather than them protecting the health service.’
Admissions for heart attacks, strokes and heart failure dropped drastically during the pandemic, as the government’s ‘Stay at Home, Protect the NHS’ message was driven hard.
Experts say patients were reluctant to seek hospital care in fear of both putting strain on the NHS and picking up the coronavirus.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, told a Science and Technology Committee this morning that people should not delay care in fear of putting pressure on the NHS ahead of a potential second wave of Covid-19
Dr Babu-Narayan told Lords today the result was at least 3,600 ‘excess deaths’ from heart and circulatory conditions in the UK during the crisis, 700 of which were recorded in just one week during the peak. Pictured: Figures for excess deaths over the course of the pandemic, according to each countries’ statistical agency
Pictured: Figures for excess deaths over the course of the pandemic, according to each countries’ statistical agency. ‘Excess deaths’ is one way to measure the impact that Covid-19 has had. It highlights how many people died that were not expected to, either as a result of the virus either directly or indirectly due to barriers in getting healthcare
STATISTICS? NOT STATISTIC? Dr Babu-Narayan said: ‘We are seeing the tragic effect of Covid-19 in statistic related to deaths.
‘Whilst Covid explained 90 per cent of the excess mortality we’ve seen at the peak of the pandemic, it doesn’t explain all.
‘It does seem some of this excess mortality is driven by patients with heart and circulatory diseases.
‘During the peak of the pandemic, in just one week there were more than 700 excess deaths from heart and circulatory diseases, including around 300 from coronary heart disease, and nearly 200 from stroke.
‘Across the whole pandemic, there have been 3,600 excess deaths from heart and circulatory diseases.
ONE IN 50 NHS PAIENTS HAVE WAITED MORE THAN A YEAR FOR PLANNED SURGERY
NHS England data released on September 10 showed 83,000 patients (2.1 per cent of the total) referred for routine operations have still not been treated 52 weeks later.
Those affected are patients waiting for planned, non-urgent surgery such as hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery or kidney stone removal.
Statistics also show the number of those waiting for ops for more than 18 weeks – the NHS target time – is at a 12-year high, with more than two million Britons now overdue.
Hospitals are struggling to get through the slog of patients waiting for ops because they shut down all non-emergency treatment for months during the crisis. They are still only running at a fraction of their usual capacity.
There are currently four million people on waiting lists for elective surgery but NHS bosses expect that number to grow to a record 10million by the end of the year.
The NHS data shows that there were 3,097 people waiting a year or more for routine surgeries at the start of March.
This figure had spiked to 83,203 by July after doubling every month since March and is likely to have risen further in the month-and-a-half since.
And the number of patients who have waited more than four months is the highest since modern records began, with more than half not being treated in that time.
A total of 2.15million Britons still had not been treated after 18 weeks by July this year, after rising from 1.85million in July.
It is the biggest 18-week waiting list since August 2007, when the figure was 1.8million.
‘This raises concern that perceived or real barriers in access to care potentially caused avoidable harm. And this should not be repeated.’
‘Excess deaths’ is one way to measure the impact that Covid-19 has had.
It highlights how many people died that were not expected to, either as a result of the virus either directly or indirectly due to barriers in getting healthcare.
Figures from the statistical bodies of each of the home nations suggests the true toll of the virus is around 60,000 — much higher than the 41,000 laboratory-confirmed deaths.
Dr Babu-Narayan said: ‘There are indirect effects of the pandemic that are putting people with cardiac diseases at increased risk.
‘Some of this is illness behaviour; We have seen very clearly that fewer people sought emergency treatment for heart attack or stroke because of fear of coronavirus infection, or not wanting to be a burden on the NHS.’
Dr Babu-Narayan, a consultant cardiologist at Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, reeled off statistics that showed the significant drop in the number of people attending NHS sites for care during the pandemic.
For example in March, there was a 50 per cent drop in emergency attendances for myocardial ischemia, from 300 per day at the beginning of March, to around 150 per day recorded by the end of March, according to Public Health England data.
According to the BHF, this is the equivalent to approximately 5,000 people every month, or more than 1,100 people every week, not being seen in emergency departments.
The condition, which has symptoms such as chest pain, occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked by plaques. If these plaques rupture, it can cause a heart attack.
Dr Babu-Narayan said: ‘We know in London at the end of March and in April there was a reduction of 38 per cent in attendance in hospital for the most severe type of heart attack, recognised by its electrocardiogram in the ambulance and requiring the paramedics taking the patient directly to the cardiac department for immediate procedure.
‘Theses reductions in heart attack attendances, stroke presentation and heart failure admission started at the same time of the first cases of Covid in the UK, and before the full lockdown, implying these effects are behaviour, not just a true change in prevalence.’
Witnesses at the meeting were asked by Lord Clive Hollick what needed to be done in the potential event of a second wave this winter.
Dr Babu-Narayan warned against a repeat of the drastic reduction in healthcare to people with illnesses other than Covid-19, particularly those with heart and circulatory conditions, which affect 7.4million people in the UK.
She said: ‘Patients need clarity about which things they should not delay, so the health service can protect them, rather than them protecting the health service.
‘They need to know which symptoms or change in symptoms are red flags meaning they should seek medical advice, but also call up if their care has been postponed. We need very clear messaging for that.
‘These heart and circulatory patients, the ones I know about, mustn’t stay at home for fear of putting pressure on NHS, because delaying their care may actually exacerbate pressures later down the line.
‘They need confidence that the healthcare system is in a good place to treat them safely.’
University of Oxford found NHS hospital admissions for any ‘acute coronary syndrome’ — a sudden reduction of blood to the heart — dropped from a monthly average of 13,075 during the pandemic. Overall between January and May, there had been around 8,000 fewer admissions for acute coronary syndromes than would be expected. Some 5,000 of these were for heart attacks specifically
The BHF has previously warned a round 190,000 people in England missed out on crucial heart ultrasounds during the Covid-19 lockdown. In February, the number was at the expected level. Only 87,902 echo tests were carried out across England in April and May, compared to 274,235 completed in the same months last year (a difference of almost 190,000)
5,000 HEART ATTACKS DIDN’T GET CARE IN LOCKDOWN
Five-thousands heart attack sufferers in England missed out on life-saving hospital treatment due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a study claimed in July.
A University of Oxford team used data regularly collected by NHS Digital from hospital trusts in England to get up-to-date information about admissions.
They found admissions for any ‘acute coronary syndrome’ — a sudden reduction of blood to the heart — dropped from a monthly average of 13,075 to 10,118 in March.
They plummeted to 8,739 in April before slightly increasing to 9,756 in May, findings in the Lancet revealed.
Overall between January and May, there had been around 8,000 fewer admissions for acute coronary syndromes than would be expected.
Some 5,000 of these were for heart attacks specifically, which is medically known as a myocardial infarction.
The researchers looked at a certain window, March 23 to March 30, and found hospital admissions for heart attacks fell 35 per cent.
Up to a quarter of people who suffered the most severe heart attack — a complete blockage of an artery — did not seek help, figures suggest.
Admissions are now picking back up again because the coronavirus is fizzling out, according to researchers at the University of Oxford.
But patient confidence is nowhere near pre-Covid levels as Brits still fear catching the coronavirus if they go to hospital.
Experts warned the risk of death from delaying heart attack treatment is higher than picking up Covid-19 at hospital.
She said the strain of waiting lists coupled with newly diagnosed heart conditions could spell a ‘catastrophe’ for the NHS.
On top of the 180,0000 people on the waiting list for an investigation or treatment at the end of July, and an estimated 28,000 delayed heart procedures in England, there will be more patients coming forward for heart conditions caused by Covid-19.
Dr Babu-Narayan said: ‘The reduced availability of heart services, that may also need to additionally address heart care for patients with newly diagnosed heart disease post Covid 19, could result in significant morbidity and mortality at risk of exceeding that due to Covid-19 directly. This could be a catastrophe.’
Since a major shift towards Covid-19 care in March and April, analysis of figures has shown the impact on patients with other health conditions.
One of the most staggering studies, by Oxford University, found 5,000 heart attack sufferers in England missed out on life-saving hospital treatment due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Senior author Professor Colin Baigent said: ‘Some people may still be worried about going to hospital because they fear encountering the coronavirus.
‘But the truth is that, by delaying or not going to hospital, people with heart attacks are at much greater risk of dying from their heart attack than catching the virus.’
Another analysis by University of Leeds experts found hospital admissions for heart attacks plummeted by 50 per cent in April and May in England.
The data also suggested that deaths rose from the most mild form of heart attack, which is usually treatable if patients are given quick medical attention.
Deaths from the most common type of heart attack soared by almost 40 per cent during the coronavirus lockdown.
Experts estimated around 2,000 fewer patients were treated for heart attacks during lockdown — despite them being classed as a medical emergency by the NHS.
It may have been an unintended consequence of the government’s ‘Stay at Home’ messaging, according to lead author of the study, statistician Dr Jianhua Wu.
The BHF has previously warned around 190,000 people in England missed out on crucial heart ultrasounds during the Covid-19 lockdown, which will ‘ultimately lead to deaths’.
Echocardiograms, also known as echo tests, are ultrasound scans that look at the structure of the heart to see if it is working properly.
They help doctors spot or follow the progression of heart conditions, such as heart failure, heart disease and damage from a heart attack.
In the NHS broadly, there are warnings the post-Covid backlog could double to a staggering 10million by Christmas.