Statement from CEO Wil Woan
Tuesday 17th November 2020
A recent British Heart Foundation study has found that between March and October there were over 5000 excess deaths from heart problems in the UK. These numbers are of great concern, and it is essential that we limit the impact of the second wave of COVID-19 on the care of patients with heart valve disease. This means that: patients must know that they should go to the doctor if they are experiencing symptoms of breathlessness, dizziness or fatigue; primary care must refer patients in a timely manner; and secondary care must maximise treatment capacity.
As the British Heart Foundation rightly points out, part of the increase in excess deaths is patients not presenting to primary care and secondary care due to the pandemic. Our #JustGo campaign aimed to combat that very problem, urging patients not to let their fear of COVID-19 stop them from seeking urgent medical help.
However, at the secondary care level there has also been a reduction in treatment capacity. Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data from the past 18 months shows a 29% reduction of Aortic Valve Replacement (AVR) treatments from April to August 2020 versus the same period last year. That equates to a 1635 treatments lost, and points towards a huge increase in waiting lists. If the second wave of COVID-19 has a similar impact, we could lose as many as 1162 AVR treatments from October 2020 to March 2021, taking the potential total lost treatments in 12 months to 2817.
Simply put, we need to be treating more heart valve disease patients, not fewer. We cannot afford to see a reduction in heart valve disease treatments to anywhere near the level of April to August. The 1635 patients who didn’t receive their treatment through April to August are now in their optimal treatment window, but by April next year they may be beyond that window. Delaying treatment now will lead to worse outcomes.
Heart valve disease is a common, serious, but treatable condition. No one would argue that the media coverage, NHS and political focus on getting cancer patient care back up and running has been necessary. But now that needs to be urgently extended to valve disease patients, where the prognosis of valve disease is life-changing or life-threatening if left untreated.
In recent weeks, we have been talking to untreated patients about their experiences. From this morning, we will start publishing the stories and experiences behind these numbers to highlight the impact on their lives. From these discussions, at the end of this week, we will issue a statement on behalf of the thousands of heart valve disease patients whose lives have been affected by these delays.
In the meantime, my message to all heart valve disease patients is to monitor your symptoms closely and respond to any changes immediately. Patients should take comfort knowing that our NHS care centres are better equipped to deal with the second wave, our understanding of the virus has improved, and we have COVID free areas where we can care for patients safely.
Wil Woan, Heart Valve Voice CEO