Long journey risk to heart attack victims

LONG journey times pushed to the very limit of clinical evidence could leave heart attack patients' lives at risk, an EADT investigation has found.

Rebecca Lefort

LONG journey times pushed to the very limit of clinical evidence could leave heart attack patients' lives at risk, an EADT investigation has found.

Huge controversy surrounds the debate over journey times that patients will face for life-saving heart attack treatment.

During Thursday's review meeting into plans to send all urgent victims in Suffolk to specialist centres outside the county it sensationally emerged that the ambulance service could not be sure how long it would take to drive from the Suffolk coast to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital - one of the three heart attack centres set up in the east.

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So the EADT sent Suffolk Coastal reporter Craig Robinson to put the journey to the test.

The experiment found it would take about two hours 45 minutes for someone in Orford to be treated after calling for help - dangerously close to the 165-minute mark which the East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA) has pledged is the top upper limit.

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The maximum figure of 165 minutes from dialling 999 to the procedure being carried out is controversial itself, because national guidelines show angioplasty is most effective if it is administered within 120 minutes and must be done within 150 minutes.

To reach the figure of 165 minutes the EADT included 34 minutes to account for the time between reaching the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and the procedure being carried out, the absolute minimum time that has been achieved at Papworth Hospital.

John Gummer, MP for Suffolk Coastal, said he was extremely concerned about the long journeys his constituents would face.

He said: “All it would have taken was an accident and hold up for that 165 minutes to have been much higher and so outside the maximum time, which has been pushed to the limit already.

“I'm also concerned about the 34 minute figure because that it's the fastest they've ever done. It's like saying everyone can run a four-minute mile because it can be done before.

“I find this issue unacceptable and I'm determined the people I represent should not be marginalised.”

The worries about journey times come as the East of England Ambulance Service asked the public for help in easing the demand on its paramedics.

The service is under such pressure that it appealed for people to consider using alternative ways to get treatment this weekend.

Yet by ferrying emergency heart attack patients to far-flung centres more strain will be put on the service because vehicles will be occupied for up to four hours at a time.

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