Heart attack victims 'lack ongoing support'

Plans to provide follow-up care for heart attack victims have fallen drastically short of government targets, with two thirds of sufferers failing to receive proper treatment to help their rehabilitation.

New figures accounting for 83,540 people found that only 34 per cent of heart attack sufferers were referred to a cardiac rehabilitation programme, despite government targets to have 85 per cent of heart patients referred to such programmes within two years.

Rehabilitation programmes are designed to help victims cope with the physical and emotional fall-outs of a heart attack. Addressing issues of diet, exercise and education, they often include input from nurses, physiotherapists, dieticians and therapists. Some doctors believe they can give heart attack patients a 26 per cent greater chance of survival in the first five years after the experience.

The study by the British Heart Foundation also found no significant increase in the numbers attending cardiac rehabilitation, and a significant lack of female patients. Only 28 per cent of patients taking part in the cardiac rehabilitation were women.

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said progress on helping heart attack victims after their experience had "flat-lined". "Recovery from a heart attack isn't over when a patient leaves hospital, and heart patients should be receiving the ongoing support they need," he said. "Referral to cardiac rehabilitation should be a routine part of treating heart patients; until this happens they will continue to miss out."

Professor Bob Lewin, also of the British Heart Foundation, cited lack of awareness and medical referrals to explain why a third of patients offered the service didn't take it. "Many patients are simply not aware that it exists or that they should be doing it," he said. "It is important that all of the staff within the health service understand the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation and communicate how important it is to their patients."