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Worries that drop in vital heart ultrasounds could lead to more deaths

PUBLISHED: 00:01 16 July 2020

Fewer echo tests have been carried out at local hospitals Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Fewer echo tests have been carried out at local hospitals Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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A leading heart charity has warned that long waits for heart ultrasounds could lead to more deaths from undiagnosed heart conditions.

The British Heart Foundation said that around 21,837 fewer of the tests, known as echocardiograms, were carried out after lockdown began.

Echocardiograms, also known as echo tests, are ultrasound scans that enable doctors to diagnose, give a prognosis, and determine follow-up treatment for a range of heart conditions, such as heart valve disease, and heart failure.

NHS England data showed the number of completed echocardiograms fell by more 70% across April and May compared to February this year.

In Suffolk, the highest drop was seen at Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG which reported a drop of 81% in the number of echo tests taken.

West Suffolk CCG recorded a drop of 63% while over the border in North Essex the number was 71%.

According to the BHF long-term delays to treatment, caused by long waiting lists for tests, could have a disastrous domino effect leading to greater pressure on hospitals and worsening health for patients.

The charity hopes that heart services will be reinstated quickly and safely as a priority.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the BHF and consultant cardiologist, said: “Heart patients have been hit doubly hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Not only are they at greater risk of complications from Covid-19, but they have also faced delays to vital treatment and care.

“Delaying them could have a devastating knock-on effect on the rest of their care, preventing them from accessing the specialist treatments they may desperately need in time. Ultimately, this could lead to patients becoming sicker as they await care and, ultimately, more deaths.

Dr Nick Jenkins, medical director at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust said: “To ensure patient safety and to follow Government guidelines, our diagnostic cardiology team has been operating a bank holiday and weekend echo service throughout the pandemic.

“I’m pleased that the measures we have put in place to minimise the spread of Covid-19 have given local residents the confidence to attend their echo appointments.”

Neill Moloney, Managing Director of East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Colchester and Ipswich hospitals, said: “We are bringing people back to our hospitals who need urgent and clinically necessary procedures as quickly and as safely as we can.

“We would encourage anyone who receives an invitation to attend an echocardiogram to come and see us – these procedures are vital and it is safe to come to hospital for your appointment.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “Despite responding rapidly to the coronavirus pandemic and the need to ensure over 100,000 patients could receive hospital care, NHS staff also provided more than five million urgent tests, checks and treatment in a safe way during the peak of the virus. The overall waiting list has fallen by more than half a million since the onset of Covid, but as more patients come forward local health services continue work to expand services safely.”


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