More than 11,000 lives could have been saved in the past seven years if treatment for heart attacks in the UK was as good as that available in Sweden, according to a major new study.
The startling finding reflects the Swedish health system’s quicker uptake of lifesaving new interventions and more widespread prescribing of drugs after patients leave hospital, experts said.
Results showed that 30 days after a heart attack, death rates for UK patients were a third higher than for those in Sweden.
Although the difference between the two countries is now narrowing, the authors of the study, which is published in The Lancet medical journal today, said that the NHS and other health systems could learn a great deal from the successes of their neighbours.
One of the key factors behind the UK’s poorer performance was a slower uptake of emergency angioplasty procedures to open narrowed coronary arteries in the event of a heart attack. Doctors in Sweden were also more likely to prescribe drug treatments such as beta blockers to patients following a heart attack.
The data was collected from national clinical registries for patients diagnosed at 86 Swedish hospitals and 242 UK hospitals between 2004 and 2010. The study covered the care of 119,000 patients in Sweden and 391,000 in the UK.
Researchers adjusted for 17 other factors such as smoking rates and age of patients, and estimated that 11,263 deaths could have been delayed or prevented in the UK if patients had received the same care as their Swedish counterparts.
Study leader Professor Harry Hemingway, from the National Institute of Cardiovascular Outcomes Research at University College London, said that the findings were “a cause for concern”.
“The uptake and use of new technologies and effective treatments recommended in guidelines has been far quicker in Sweden,” he said. “This has contributed to large differences in the management and outcomes of patients.”
Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said that while the reasons behind the difference were complex, early adoption of emergency angioplasty had played a major role.
“The lesson here for the UK is that we need to be led by the research and introduce pioneering practices quickly and on a large scale,” he said.