Almost 33,000 deaths could have been avoided if better aftercare was provided to patients, a new study has suggested.
Researchers said that if heart attack aftercare guidelines outlining when to give treatment were followed properly, thousands of deaths could have been avoided.
"We calculate that roughly one patient per month per hospital in England and Wales is losing their life as a direct consequence of this deficit," said Dr Chris Gale, lead author of the study.
The study, which was funded by (British Heart Foundation) BHF and the (National Institute For Heath Research) NIHR, looked at the frequency of missed opportunities to treat people after a heart attack.
Using data from the UK National Heart Attack Register, researchers analysed 389,057 cases of non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI) - the most common type of heart attack - across 247 hospitals in England and Wales between 2003 and 2013.
They looked at 13 treatments that guidelines recommend for patients who have suffered from an NSTEMI, where blood supply to the heart is limited rather than completely cut off.
They also assessed how often these treatments were given and compared this to whether guidelines recommended such treatments at the time.
Almost 87% of patients did not receive at least one of the interventions that they should have been given.
The most frequently missed interventions were dietary advice, advice to help people to stop smoking and the prescription of a type of anti-clotting drug such as clopidogrel.
The team also looked at the effect that these missed interventions had on the health of the patients within the study.
They concluded that some treatments had more impact on patient survival than others.
Heart attack patients who had the highest risk of death were those who should have been given: a coronary angiogram, cardiac rehabilitation, advice to help them stop smoking or a prescription for statins.
Someone suffers a heart attack approximately every three minutes in the UK, leading to the death of nearly 200 people of working age every week.
Lead author Dr Chris Gale, associate professor of Cardiovascular Health Sciences at the Leeds institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine, said: "What we’ve highlighted here is the unacceptable deficit in the care being given to people after they’ve had an NSTEMI heart attack.
"The good news is that now we’ve identified the problem, we can certainly fix it.
"Simple interventions, such as prescribing statins, are being missed and this is resulting in loss of life."
Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the BHF, which funded the research, said: "This study shows that many people in the UK are receiving suboptimal care after a heart attack and that lives are being lost as a consequence.
"Over the years the BHF has invested millions of pounds of donated money on research that demonstrates how best to identify and treat people who have had a heart attack.
"Hospitals need to apply the lessons learnt from this research and we’re committed to working with the NHS to improve patient care.
"Applying clinical guidelines in heart disease costs little and in the long-term saves money and, most importantly, saves lives."
The study's findings were published in the European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care.
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