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Record number of heart patients taking part in rehabilitation - But female patients being left behind

Posted on 2 December 2016

Record numbers of people are taking part in rehabilitation following a heart attack, according to new figures released by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Around 66,000 heart patients took part in rehabilitation in 2014/15, an increase of 27% since 2009 (51,000).

This means that uptake for rehabilitation services has reached 50 per cent for the first time since records began.

But the charity is warning that female patients are being left behind and are missing out on vital services to improve their chance of recovery and reduce the risk of suffering another heart attack.

Statistics, published in the National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation, reveal:

  • 66,000 people took part in rehabilitation following a heart attack
  • But more than 20,000 female patients are missing out
  • Half of patients are left waiting too long to start rehabilitation

In England, around 52% of eligible male patients take part in cardiac rehabilitation compared to 44% of female patients.

It’s recommended that heart attack and angioplasty patients start cardiac rehabilitation within 33 days, but just half of programmes are meeting this target.

The BHF is calling for cardiac rehabilitation services to do more to meet waiting time targets and encourage more female patients to take part.

Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the BHF, said: “While it is hugely encouraging that more patients are accessing rehabilitation services, there is still much more to be done.

“Half of heart attack patients are still missing out on this important service and women are being left behind. There are also delays in patients getting access to care, with half of services failing to meet targets.

“We need services to find ways to treat patients earlier and get more female patients benefitting from cardiac rehabilitation, which can reduce their risk of suffering another heart attack.”

Professor Patrick Doherty, author of the report and Director of the National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation, based in the Department of Health Sciences, 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 an average of 50 per cent of patients accessing services.

“The bad news is that half of patients are not still accessing these services and those that do attend may receive sub-optimal service delivery with nearly half of programmes failing to meet the minimum standards.”

The National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation (NACR), which is funded by the BHF and hosted within the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, combines data from hundreds of rehabilitation centres in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Cardiac rehabilitation offers physical activity support and lifestyle advice, such as exercise classes and dietary guidance, to help people living with heart disease manage their condition and reduce their risk of associated heart events.

Rehabilitation can help reduce the number of deaths by 18 per cent over the first six to twelve months and can cut readmissions by a third (31%).

Earlier this year, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Heart Disease launched an inquiry into heart failure care. Patients involved in the inquiry spoke of the many benefits of cardiac rehabilitation.

Evidence shows that cardiac rehabilitation can help to reduce mortality and hospital admissions.

One of the key recommendations within the report published by the APPG highlights the need for all clinical commissioning groups to commission exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation programmes suitable for heart failure patients and increase referrals to them.

The audit launched today echoes this by recommending that heart failure patients should be seen as a priority group for cardiac rehabilitation.

Download the NACR at

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