24,000 female heart patients missing out on vital cardiac rehabilitation

Wellness relationship to illness

Just 38% of women start rehabilitation following heart attack, angioplasty or surgery

More than 24,000 female heart patients are missing out on crucial rehabilitation, putting them at risk of further heart attacks, according to a new report1 from the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Just 38 per cent of female patients who have a heart attack, angioplasty or bypass surgery receive any cardiac rehabilitation.

Analysis shows that cardiac rehabilitation services are neglecting female heart patients, with just over 14,000 taking part in cardiac rehabilitation out of 38,500 eligible female patients in England in 2013/14. A further 5,500 women could take part if services fixed the current gender imbalance and matched male uptake levels (52%).

In England, around 122,000 patients are eligible for cardiac rehabilitation but just 47 per cent receive it, despite a government target2 of 65 per cent.

In some parts of the country patients had to wait as long as seven weeks to start rehabilitation following a heart attack3, nearly double the recommendation of starting within 28 days.

When someone suffers a major heart event, such as a heart attack, and need life-saving surgery or medicine-based treatment, they should then be referred for rehabilitation to help their recovery and reduce the risk of another heart attack.

But at some rehabilitation centres, as few as ten per cent of patients are women, partly because services are failing to refer and encourage female patients to take part. There are also concerns that older women and men are not attending cardiac rehabilitation following a medically managed heart attack.

The National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation (NACR), which is funded by the BHF and hosted at the University of York, combines data from 164 centres in England, as well as centres in 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 months2 and can cut readmissions by a third (31%).

Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “It is appalling that less than half of eligible female heart patients receive cardiac rehabilitation. Thousands of women are missing out on a vital step in their recovery, increasing their risk of another heart attack.

“That’s why health services urgently need to make rehabilitation more accessible to women, who are either not referred or are put off attending, to help save more lives.”

Professor Patrick Doherty, Director of the NACR, said: “This report shows that while some programmes promote an attractive rehabilitation service and have really high uptake of female patients, the majority of programmes struggle to ensure enough women take part.

“Service providers and commissioners should take action to improve the appeal of the programmes and promote them in a way that motivates female patients to attend. A range of options should be offered including community and self-management approaches, all of which have been shown to benefit patients.”

Nichola Brown, 52, from London, had a stent fitted after a heart attack in 2012. She took part in cardiac rehabilitation once a week, for six weeks, and still continues to go to the gym.

Nichola said: “When you’re recovering from a heart attack it can be quite scary, but my cardiac rehabilitation programme was brilliant. You get access to experts such as specialist cardiac nurses, nutritionists, and exercise instructors to educate and help you. At the end of rehabilitation I was feeling much better and still continue to go to the gym. More women should be encouraged to take part, it’s just so important.”


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