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The total number of patients in a rehab programme after a heart attack, surgery or serious heart condition fell to 35,500 in February to July – down a third from 52,600 in the previous six months, a report found. The British Heart Foundation said the drop was partly fuelled by fewer people attending hospital with heart problems in the pandemic and by surgeries being postponed.

Fewer referrals, social distancing restrictions and the redeployment of medical staff are also thought to have affected services.

Sally Hughes, the head of health services engagement at the charity, said: “It is extremely concerning to see such a sharp fall. Need for aftercare after something as life-changing as a heart attack does not go away because we are in a global pandemic. As we build back NHS services, we should continue to reimagine rehabilitation services, making them more appealing and effective.”

Rehab provides guidance on health and exercise to help patients recover from cardiac events, such as a heart attack or surgery, and is offered to those with serious conditions including angina and heart failure.

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Research shows it cuts the risk of premature death by a quarter and hospital admissions by around a fifth, as well as making further serious heart-related illness less likely.

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The report by the University of York and the BHF also found the crisis has worsened health inequalities. The biggest drop in participation in the routine services was among people of Asian and Asian British backgrounds – numbers fell 45 percent from the previous six months to 1,600 from February to July. Patients of Black, Caribbean, African and Black British backgrounds fell by 44 percent.

Many rehab programmes adapted to the Covid crisis by moving their services online. The BHF also offers support and exercise programmes for cardiac rehabilitation on its website.

Prof Patrick Doherty, director of the National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation at the university, said: “Data from this year’s report shows the negative impact the pandemic has had on participation to routine services.

“However… despite significant staff redeployment to fight Covid-19, clinical teams from over 230 NHS programmes have adapted their services.

“This has resulted in a 36 percent increase in supported self-managed cardiac rehab – such as people doing it at home.”


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