Intended for healthcare professionals


Covid-19: Pandemic disruption linked to 30 000 excess heart disease deaths, charity reports

BMJ 2022; 379 doi: (Published 03 November 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;379:o2659
  1. Elisabeth Mahase
  1. The BMJ

Record long waiting lists, ambulance delays, and inaccessible care have driven a surge in excess deaths involving heart disease in England, an analysis by the British Heart Foundation has found.1

Between March 2020 and August 2022 there were more than 30 000 excess deaths involving coronary heart disease, an average of 230 a week above the expected death rate. In addition, many people have not been able to access care for conditions such as high blood pressure, that could raise the risk of a future heart attack or stroke, the foundation’s report said.

It highlighted NHS England data showing that two million fewer people were recorded as having controlled hypertension in 2021 than in the previous year and that this could lead to an extra 11 190 myocardial infarctions and 16 702 additional strokes over three years.

The foundation’s chief executive, Charmaine Griffiths, said, “Despite the best efforts and commitment of NHS staff, millions have been unable to access routine care, record numbers continue to wait longer and longer for heart tests and procedures, ambulances are taking far too much time to reach heart attack patients, and there have been tens of thousands more deaths than expected involving cardiovascular diseases—with no end in sight.”

Griffiths called on the government to listen to the “urgent needs of heart patients and NHS staff.” She said, “As this new government draws up its priorities for healthcare, a heart strategy must be at the top of the agenda to prevent more heartbreak and needless loss of life.”

There is also an increased risk of heart problems from infection with SARS-CoV-2. Earlier this year a US study of veterans found those who had covid-19 had a 72% higher risk of heart failure, 63% higher risk of heart attack, and 52% higher risk of stroke than the control group.2

Waiting times

The foundation’s report pointed to NHS statistics showing that the average ambulance response times for suspected myocardial infarctions have risen to 48 minutes in England, against a target of 18 minutes, while a record 346 000 people were on a cardiac care waiting list in England as at August 2022.

Over 7000 people have also been waiting more than a year for a heart procedure, and nearly one in five heart patients surveyed by the charity said that their health had deteriorated since the start of the pandemic.

Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the foundation, said, “Delays on such an extreme scale are likely leading to avoidable emergency admissions, permanent heart damage, disability from heart failure, and early death. There aren’t enough NHS staff to deal with the ever rising tide of heart problems, and those that remain are overstretched, overwhelmed, and close to leaving.

“This can’t become business as usual. Heart care staff need fit-for-purpose facilities and a clear plan so patients can receive their time critical care, allowing them to lead a fuller, healthier life away from hospital beds and waiting rooms.”