The Guardian: LONDON, England – Waiting lists are at a record high, almost double since 2020, with heart disease being the largest cause of premature death in deprived areas

Fifteen hospital trusts across England each have more than 200 patients waiting longer than a year for heart procedures, NHS figures reveal.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) warns that heart care waiting lists are now at a record high, reaching 414,596 at the end of March 2024 in England, almost double what it was in 2020. The number of people waiting longer than a year for heart tests and treatments has risen to 10,893. Four years ago, the figure was just 53.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the BHF, said: “I find it profoundly disturbing that record-breaking numbers of heart patients are on the waiting list and that they are waiting longer than ever.

“This bucks the trend of overall waiting lists falling when we know that heart care can’t wait. Not getting the right heart test, treatment or surgery at the right time could lead to an avoidable heart attack, incurable heart failure or someone dying prematurely.”

NHS England says it is working to reduce the longest waits for patients. The most recent waiting list figures for March show 974 patients at University Hospitals Sussex NHS foundation trust waiting longer than a year for cardiology services; 526 patients waiting longer than a year at West Hertfordshire teaching hospitals NHS trust; and 454 patients waiting longer than a year at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS foundation trust.

An analysis by the BHF published in January found the number of people dying in England before age 75 from heart and circulatory ­diseases had risen to its highest level in a decade. In 2022 more than 39,000 died in England prematurely of cardiovascular conditions, including heart attacks, coronary heart disease and stroke – an average of 750 people a week. It reported the annual total of deaths as the highest since 2008.

The BHF says the pressures on NHS care are one of several factors contributing to premature deaths involving cardiovascular disease. The charity says the health sector must focus on better prevention of heart disease and stroke, the prioritisation of NHS heart care and the “supercharging” of cardiovascular research.

Heart and circulatory disease causes a quarter of all UK deaths and is the largest cause of premature deaths in deprived areas. NHS England says it is the single biggest area where it can save lives over the next decade.

Rishi Sunak pledged to cut NHS waiting lists in England when he identified five priority areas for his government in January last year. The total waiting list for treatment has fallen slightly this year but is still higher than when he made his pledge, with the waiting list for planned treatment at 7.54 million in March 2024.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “NHS staff have made significant progress in bringing down the longest waits for care that built up during the pandemic. Waits of over 65 weeks for cardiology treatment have fallen by 40% since March 2023.”skip past newsletter promotion

A doctor measures a patient's blood pressure.

A spokesperson for University Hospitals Sussex said: “We are one of the largest trusts in the country and run cardiology services from all four of our main hospital sites. Over the last year, colleagues have been working incredibly hard to deliver extra clinics, maximise the use of community diagnostic centres and improve processes, which has helped cut our waiting lists by almost 20%.”

West Hertfordshire teaching hospitals NHS trust said cardiology patients with urgent assessment were seen by rapid access teams, but those with non-urgent issues faced waits. A spokesperson said: “There was a 16% increase in the last year in GP referrals for routine cardiology appointments, and demand has exceeded capacity for these cases. We have put in place a number of measures to further improve the service.”

Bedfordshire Hospitals trust has been approached for comment.