The NHS is not too busy to save your life

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, BHF Associate Medical Director, updates on why the BHF is supporting the NHS’s plea for people to continue to seek emergency care and treatment if experiencing possible heart attack symptoms.

The number of people attending hospital emergency departments with heart symptoms has halved since the beginning of March in England. As a cardiologist, this concerns me.

The country’s focus on combating coronavirus (Covid-19) is fundamental, and as healthcare workers we are proud to support this fight. But if the current trend continues, approximately 5,000 of the expected people with possible heart attack symptoms will not be seen in emergency departments each month. 

There are several possible reasons for this dramatic fall in numbers, and one of them is likely to be that people are not seeking the urgent and life-saving medical assistance they need for heart attacks.  People may also be less certain about the symptoms of heart attack because chest pain has been widely discussed as a symptom of Covid-19, and both heart attack and the virus make people breathless.

Heart attacks don’t stop for a pandemic

According to a BHF survey this month, most cardiologists thought that the fall in attendances could be due to people’s fear of being exposed to coronavirus in hospital, and worries of overburdening the NHS.

Yet the risk of dying from an untreated heart attack is far greater than the risk of contracting and dying from Covid-19 in hospital, not least because hospitals have put measures in place to separate people needing treatment for Covid-19 from people with other conditions.

Heart attacks don’t stop during a global pandemic, and that is why the BHF is supporting the NHS’s urgent plea that patients continue to seek emergency and urgent care and treatment.

Covid-19 is extremely serious, but avoiding treatment for a heart attack or stroke can put your life at risk, or lead to more disabling long term symptoms.

Without swift diagnosis and treatment, someone having a heart attack is far more likely to spend longer in hospital, require intensive care and suffer serious heart damage, which could lead to avoidable debilitating conditions, such as severe heart failure.

This is a tragedy as decades of research mean that we know how to effectively treat heart attacks and have dedicated NHS structures in place to deliver them.

It is vital that anyone experiencing heart attack symptoms dials 999. Paramedics can diagnose a heart attack or a stroke straight away and take people to the right hospital and department to receive the best treatment without significant delay.

I cannot stress enough that the NHS remains ready to treat you if you need urgent care and treatment.

The NHS won’t abandon you

The health service is reassuring us that it has the staff, beds and equipment in place and is open for business to treat emergencies like heart attacks and strokes as well as heart patients that need urgent help. Delaying or avoiding treatments may put more pressure on the health service, not less if it results in more people presenting with more severe illness. 

I appreciate this may be a deeply worrying time for anyone concerned about their health but fears of getting coronavirus or of being a burden on the NHS should not stop people with serious medical problems seeking help. 

The NHS will not abandon anyone who needs its services, so if you or a loved one experience any of the warning signs of a heart attack, please dial 999 as soon as possible. It could save a life and prevent more heartbreak.

Published by the BHF on 28th April 2020

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