A QUARTER of patients in an area of Scotland with the third highest rate of heart disease are waiting seven months for a basic but potentially life-saving test, figures show.
Research by British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland found that the length of time patients are waiting for echocardiograms varied widely across the country.
In NHS Lanarkshire, one in four patients are having to wait at least seven months for the scan, which detects damage to the heart, while in other parts of the country the figure is less than one in 50.
NHS Lothian saw the highest number of patients from April 1 2019 and October 31 2020 with 8297 patients (78%)seen within a month compared to just 368 (28%) in Lanarkshire.
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The BHF has warned that funding for heart disease has stalled, risking progress made to tackle a health problem that kills around 50 Scots every day – almost a third of all deaths. It claims that £1million has been spent on a strategy to cut deaths in the past six years, compared to £117million tackling cancer.
Research suggests that people with underlying health conditions such as coronary heart disease and heart failure are at increased risk of severe complications from coronavirus
and an increased risk of death.
Nearly all health boards shut down the echocardiogram programme in April or May last year but the BHF said the pandemic had highlighted rather than caused problems in the system.
Only five health boards (Lothian, Borders, Shetland, Lanarkshire and Dumfries and Galloway) provided data with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde among those who declined, citing the cost for producing the data. Shetland had the second worst waiting times record out of the five, with 17% of patients waiting more than seven months.
An echocardiogram or ‘echo’ as it is more widely known can help diagnose and monitor certain heart conditions by checking the structure of the heart and surrounding blood vessels. It can be used to help detect damage from a heart attack, problems with valves or birth defects.
The Scottish Government has committed to spending £117 million on a new cancer strategy and £42 million on a strategy targeting Type 2 diabetes.
According to the the charity, £1 million has been invested in the heart disease strategy since its launch six years ago, which equates to the Scottish Government spending 81 times more per cancer diagnosis through its strategy, and 62 times more on Type 2 diabetes.
Across Scotland an estimated 700,000 people are living with heart disease, while the pandemic has amplified the problem. According to the BHF Lanarkshire has the third highest rate of cardiovascular disease, after Lothian with the highest tally in Greater Glasgow.
The charity is calling for a new heart disease strategy for Scotland to be developed, underpinned by greater investment.
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Key priorities identified by the BHF and more than 70 clinical experts include greater efforts to tackle obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol and a commitment to ensure all patients have timely and equitable access to diagnosis, treatment and care.
David McColgan, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Manager at BHF Scotland, said: “It doesn’t matter where you live in Scotland, you should still be seen quickly and efficiently.
“A lot of the health boards didn’t give us information which is a problem in itself and one of the things we are calling for is a national record of data.
“In Lothian, 90 per cent of people were seen two months after being referred, while in Lanarkshire 35% are seen within that period of time. That’s a huge disparity.
“Lothian have seen 9600 people while Lanarkshire has seen 468.
“If I was living in Lanarkshire, which at some point borders with Lothian it means that at some point you are more likely to wait seven months than you are to wait one or two.
“If a quarter of people in one area were waiting seven months for a cancer scan, there would be an outcry – quite rightly.
“Heart disease is a major cause of ill health and death in Scotland and yet the Scottish Government’s plans to tackle heart disease haven’t been updated since 2014.
“As we look forward to the Scottish Elections at Holyrood in May, we are calling on all political parties to commit to work with us to tackle these issues.”
A petition has been launched at Westminster, calling for all patients with suspected heart failure to be seen within 12 weeks which the BHF said was not an ‘unrealistic call to action’.
Dr David Northridge, Consultant Cardiologist and President of the Scottish Cardiac Society, said: “We know that the earlier heart patients can be diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome for them and for the NHS as a whole.
“But the lack of consistent data on cardiac care means we don’t have a true picture of the scale of services and access to them across the country and that is a huge concern and one that we would like to see addressed in any future plan.”
Ivan Williams, 73, who is from Alva, says there is a “huge need” to re-assess funding for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, which he lives with.
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Mr Williams, who is married Linda, 66 and has two grown up children, was diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation in 2014, which causes an irregular and rapid heart rate and occurs when the two upper chambers of the heart experience chaotic electrical signals. It increases the risk of a stroke by around 4 to 5 times and Mr Williams is now being treated for the condition with medication.
Years before this diagnosis, in 2009, he says his life was saved by a routine eye test which picked up bleeding behind his left eye.
He said: “The optician got me an appointment to go to the infirmary and they found out that my blood pressure was very high. That saved me from having a stroke because this was a clot that was travelling behind my eye.
“One of the reports said I was two inches from a stroke. From then on I was more aware of things.
“I was lucky enough to get an invite to the BHF research centre in Glasgow. What they are doing is absolutely incredible and the funding they are receiving was last assessed in 2014.
“There is a huge need to re-assess and re-evaluate the funding.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We welcome the work that BHF Scotland has carried out in collaboration with the clinical and patient community to identify their vision for heart disease care in Scotland.
“We are committed to ensuring the best care possible for people with heart disease and will publish a refreshed heart disease improvement plan this year.”