Study highlights shortfall in rehabilitation services for heart attack patients

More people in the UK are benefiting from rehabilitation programmes after a heart attack - but the service is still only reaching half of the eligible patients.


Research by our health scientists shows many heart attack patients are missing out on vital support

Thousands of heart patients are missing out on cardiac rehabilitation, putting them at greater risk of suffering further heart attacks, according to research carried out by our health scientists on behalf of the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

The study shows that although the number of people undergoing cardiac rehabilitation has increased by 27 per cent in the last decade, it still only reaches around half of eligible patients. Uptake of the vital service is lower among female patients – and many patients are left waiting too long before they start on a programme.

Cardiac rehabilitation combines physical activity support and lifestyle advice. Health guidelines recommend that heart attack and angioplasty patients start rehabilitation within 33 days, but just half of the programmes are meeting this target.

Good news - bad news

The research was led by Professor Patrick Doherty, Director of the National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation in our Department of Health Sciences. He said: “The good news is that the UK now leads the world in uptake of 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 the remaining 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.” 

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

Around 66,000 patients took part in rehabilitation in 2014/15, an increase of 27 per cent since 2009. In England around 52 per cent of eligible male patients take part in the service compared to 44 per cent of females.

Waiting time targets

The BHF is now 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.

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

The University's National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation team, supported by NHS Digital, continues to help rehabilitation programmes with the use of clinical data to quality assure service delivery.

The text of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. You're free to republish it, as long as you link back to this page and credit us.

This study was funded by the British Heart Foundation

Featured researcher
Professor Patrick Doherty

Professor Patrick Doherty

Professor of Cardiovascular Health

Research interests in cardiac rehabilitation, cardiovascular disease prevention and exercise

View profile

Find out more about the work of our Department of Health Sciences

Explore the work of the British Heart Foundation

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