Thousands of heart patients are missing out on cardiac rehabilitation following a heart attack, increasing their risk of suffering a fatal event, according to new figures released by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Around 66,000 heart patients missed out on cardiac rehabilitation in 2014/15, an effective service to help recovery following a heart attack or procedure.

Despite this shortfall, participation in cardiac rehabilitation has improved in the last decade, with uptake in the UK reaching 50 per cent for the first time last year.

But this is still just half the number of eligible heart patients across the UK, meaning tens of thousands of people are missing out.

The charity is warning that female patients in particular are being left behind and not accessing vital services to improve their chance of recovery and reduce the risk of suffering another heart attack.

Statistics published in the National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation (NACR) reveal:

  • 66,000 people took part in cardiac rehabilitation following a heart attack or procedure, but this is still just half the number of eligible patients
  • More than 20,000 female patients are missing out
  • Half of patients are left waiting too long to start rehabilitation

Cardiac rehabilitation following a heart attack can help achieve better physical and psycho-social outcomes for patients. This year's audit report found that patients with clinical depression almost halved from 7% to 4% following cardiac rehabilitation, while the number of patients meeting national exercise guidelines increased from 40% to 70% following their programme.

In England, around 52% of eligible male patients take part in cardiac rehabilitation compared to 44% of female patients.

It's recommended that heart attack and angioplasty patients start cardiac rehabilitation within 33 days, but just half of programmes are meeting this target.

The BHF is calling for cardiac rehabilitation services to do more to meet waiting time targets and wants to encourage more female patients to take part.

Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the BHF, said: "It is hugely encouraging that more patients are accessing rehabilitation services, but there is still much more to be done.

"Half of heart attack patients are still missing out on this effective service and are at greater risk of suffering a deadly heart attack. There are also delays in patients getting access to care, with half of services failing to meet targets.

"There is variation between services which needs to be ironed out to ensure that every patient has access to cardiac rehabilitation which can reduce their risk of suffering another heart attack."

Professor Patrick Doherty, author of the report and Director of the National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation, at University of York, said: "The good news is that the UK now leads the world in uptake to cardiac rehabilitation and prevention for patients following a cardiac event or procedure, with 50 per cent of patients accessing services.

"The bad news is that half of patients are still not accessing these services and those that do attend may receive inadequate care with nearly half of programmes failing to meet the minimum standards."

The National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation (NACR), which is funded by the BHF and hosted at the University of York, combines data from hundreds of rehabilitation centres in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Cardiac rehabilitation offers physical activity support and lifestyle advice, such as exercise classes and dietary guidance, to help people living with heart disease manage their condition and reduce their risk of associated heart events.

Rehabilitation can help reduce the number of deaths by 18 per cent over the first six to twelve months (2) and can cut readmissions by nearly a third (31%).

Earlier this year, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Heart Disease launched an inquiry (3) into heart failure care. Patients involved in the inquiry spoke of the many benefits of cardiac rehabilitation.

Evidence shows that cardiac rehabilitation can help to reduce mortality and hospital admissions.

One of the key recommendations within the report published by the APPG highlights the need for all clinical commissioning groups to commission exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation programmes suitable for heart failure patients and increase referrals to them.

The report audit launched today echoes this by recommending that heart failure patients should be seen as a priority group for cardiac rehabilitation.