Fears for patient safety as cardiology waiting lists grow

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation; Inset: A BHF shop

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associated medical director at the British Heart Foundation, has warned that ECG waiting times are too long in some areas - Credit: Dan Kennedy/PA Media/Archant

The number of patients waiting more than six weeks for a heart scan has nearly reached 5,000 in Cambridgeshire and West Essex.

Government data shows that, in September 2021, 1,092 patients waited more than six weeks for an echocardiogram in the NHS West Essex Clinical Commissioning Group area, covering Uttlesford, Harlow and Epping Forest.

A further 3,848 patients waited more than six weeks for an echocardiogram in the NHS Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG area.

The data suggests that West Essex patients faced the third-longest waiting lists in the East of England, behind the Norfolk and Waveney area.

Patients in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough faced the longest waiting lists.

A hospital in West Essex confirmed all immediately urgent treatment and surgery has gone ahead.

But BHF experts fear long wait times could have a "domino effect" on care and patient safety.

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Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the BHF, said: “Waiting lists for heart treatments were too long before the pandemic began, and they are now rising to record levels.

“Without an echocardiogram, doctors can’t see how well the heart is working.

“This matters because the long delays we now see for heart imaging tests create a domino effect of disruption to heart care and treatment that ultimately puts lives at risk.

"This is tragic when effective heart treatments exist."

The BHF compared the September 2021 dataset with figures from February 2020, when 15 patients waited more than six weeks for an echocardiogram in West Essex.

In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, this figure stood at just 10.

Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow cares for some West Essex cardiology patients.

A sign to Harlow's Accident and Emergency (A&E) department

Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow cares for some cardiology patients in the NHS West Essex CCG area. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

Stephanie Lawton, chief operating officer at PAH NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Our echocardiogram services have been impacted by the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is an issue nationally.

“We have a range of measures in place to reduce the number of patients who are waiting for investigations, including recruiting additional specialist clinicians to review patients on the waiting list."

She said patients are always treated in the order of clinical need.

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