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Heart failure patients twice as likely to die on general wards

Heart failure patients twice as likely to die on general wards Care suboptimal

Heart failure patients admitted to general wards are twice as likely to die as those admitted to a specialist cardiac ward, a national study has found.

And women fare worse than men in being given the appropriate tests and treatment, the findings suggest.

Each year around a quarter of a million people in England and Wales die from heart failure, a condition where the heart fails to pump blood around the body as well as it should.

A team of experts looked at what tests and treatments were carried out on more than 6,000 patients with symptoms of heart failure who attended 86 hospitals across England and Wales between April 2008 and March 2009. Almost half of the patients were women.

Half the patients were admitted to cardiology wards. Compared with those managed on general wards, they tended to be younger and were more likely to be men.

Those admitted to general medical wards were twice as likely to die as those admitted to cardiology wards, even when other risk factors had been taken into account.

The survey findings also showed that people admitted to general wards were less likely to receive the appropriate investigations compared with those on a specialist cardiac ward.

Most patients (75%) were given a heart trace monitor test (echocardiogram). But only two thirds of those admitted to general medical wards were given this test.

A blood test used to diagnose heart failure which measures levels of natriuretic peptides was performed on a mere one per cent of patients, despite National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence recommendations.

While most patients were given the appropriate medicines when discharged from hospital, only half were prescribed beta blockers. Men and younger patients were more likely to be given these drugs.

"Currently, hospital provision of care is suboptimal and the outcome of patents poor. The same rules that apply to suspected cancer should pertain to a disease with such a malign prognosis as heart failure," the authors wrote in the journal Heart.

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This study shows that heart failure patients are dying unnecessarily.

“It stands alongside a growing body of evidence showing patients with all heart conditions do better if seen and managed by an expert cardiac team.

“As the population ages, and the number of people living with heart disease increases, it is all the more essential that specialist cardiac services are maintained and expanded. It will improve the lives of heart patients and save the health service money.”

This article was published on Tue 18 January 2011

Image © Cecilia Lim - Fotolia.com

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