Thousands of women are missing out on the essential care they need after a heart attack, a major audit reveals.
Experts warned female patients are ‘being left behind’, as a significant disparity in care was revealed by the National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation.
All heart patients should be offered rehabilitation care in the aftermath of an attack, which has been shown to reduce the risk of death by 18 per cent in the next year, and cut readmissions by 31 per cent.
Yet only 44 per cent of women are given the treatment, compared to 52 per cent of men.
All heart attack patients or those who have had a stent inserted should start cardiac rehabilitation within 33 days, guidelines say.
All heart attack patients should start cardiac rehabilitation within 33 days, guidelines say. Yet only 44 per cent of women are given the treatment, compared to 52 per cent of men
But even when patients do receive the treatment, only half are receiving it within this target.
Rehabilitation involves a gentle reintroduction to physical activity, including exercise classes, and also guidance on diet.
Patients are also given guidance about how to live with heart disease and reduce their risk of repeat attacks.
Some 66,000 of the 120,000 eligible patients missed out on cardiac rehabilitation in 2014/15, the audit revealed.
The British Heart Foundation said in a statement: ‘Female patients in particular are being left behind and not accessing vital services to improve their chance of recovery and reduce the risk of suffering another heart attack.’
Experts think the NHS makes it too hard to access rehabilitation classes, by holding rigid sessions in hospitals, which sick patients often cannot get to.
This is particularly the case for women, who tend to have heart attacks at a later age than men, so are more likely to be older and with other health problems.
Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said it would help to be more ‘receptive to patients’ needs’, by holding sessions in community centres or GP practices rather than hospitals.
‘With some NHS provision it is a case of “take it or leave it”,’ he said.
Rehabilitation involves a gentle reintroduction to physical activity, including exercise classes, and also guidance on diet (stock)
‘The way it is offered may not be convenient for patients, as it manes turning up at a hospital for a class or appointment.’
He added: ‘It is hugely encouraging that more patients are accessing rehabilitation services, but there is still much more to be done.
‘Half of heart attack patients are still missing out on this effective service and are at greater risk of suffering a deadly heart attack. There are also delays in patients getting access to care, with half of services failing to meet targets.
‘There is variation between services which needs to be ironed out to ensure that every patient has access to cardiac rehabilitation which can reduce their risk of suffering another heart attack.’
Professor Patrick Doherty of York University, author of the report and director of the National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation, said: ‘The good news is that the UK now leads the world in uptake to cardiac rehabilitation and prevention for patients following a cardiac event or procedure, with 50 per cent of patients accessing services.
‘The bad news is that half of patients are still not accessing these services and those that do attend may receive inadequate care with nearly half of programmes failing to meet the minimum standards.’
Earlier this year a study by Leeds University found doctors were 50 per cent more likely to miss a heart attack in a woman than in a man.
Experts said the ‘alarming’ disparity in diagnosis may be because doctors wrongly think of heart disease as a problem that only affects middle-aged overweight men, rather than a problem which could affect women as well.
Women themselves view heart issues as a typically ‘male disease’, scientists think – so when they start noticing symptoms they often do not seek help.