Heart Attack Patients Face Losing Support

Thousands of heart attack patients will be denied lifesaving support to rebuild their lives because of a lack of funding. At least eight cardiac rehabilitation projects around Wales are due to close because funding has run out. Services provided by another three will be drastically cut back.

These projects have been instrumental in helping patients emotionally and physically recover from a heart attack, including helping many back to work. And even though they meet the Welsh Assembly Government’s objectives for chronic disease management, modernising the NHS and encouraging people to lead healthier lifestyles, no government funding is available to continue running them. Only one cardiac rehabilitation project – in Flintshire – has received permanent funding from a local health board

Denise Lewis, chair of the all-Wales cardiac rehabilitation working group, said: “People are less likely to die from a cardiac problem if they have had cardiac rehabilitation, than if they have just had medical treatment. An angioplasty will not prolong life at a cost of £3,000, versus cardiac rehabilitation, which costs £600 and prolongs life expectancy.”

Wales’ cardiac rehabilitation projects were initially funded by the Big Lottery Fund or through the Assembly Government’s Inequalities in Health fund. But the majority of projects will run out of money this year with no prospect of further funding.

Cardiac rehabilitation has become an acknowledged and established part of a patient’s treatment after a heart attack. It aims to address the emotional, physical and psychological effects of a heart attack, which are not met by conventional medical treatment. This includes provid- ing support for patients after they are discharged from hospital, encouraging them to exercise and advising them on diet.

Ms Lewis said: “Our medical partners can fix the practical problems, but they can’t relieve the distressful and often frightening symptoms caused by going through such a life-threatening experience as a heart attack. Patients often have anxiety problems, breathlessness, lack of energy and problems with sexual function which would not be treated in a medical model.”

Research has shown that heart attack patients who have not gone through cardiac rehabilitation make four times more visits to a physician for problems caused by psychological distress. And the rate of readmission to hospital is 30% higher, if there has been no cardiac rehabilitation.

Elaine Tanner, cardiac rehabilitation co-ordinator for the British Heart Foundation in Wales, said: “Cardiac rehabilitation is an inexpensive treatment that saves lives – people who do not take part are 25% more likely to die in the following two to five years. Yet in Wales nearly 64% per cent of the patients who need it are denied access.”

A spokesman for the Welsh Assembly Government said tackling cardiac disease was a top priority. Local health boards were responsible for assessing local health need and commissioning services to meet it. “If projects have been evaluated and shown to be effective, LHBs should consider that evidence in light of their other priorities and in determining the most effective use of the resources available in helping to meet local health needs.”