One in 25 heart attack deaths in north-east of England ‘preventable in London’

<span>Photograph: RayArt Graphics/Alamy</span>
Photograph: RayArt Graphics/Alamy

One in 25 people who die of a heart attack in the north-east of England could have survived if the average cardiologist effectiveness was raised to the London level, research shows.

The research, undertaken by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), looked at the record of over 500,000 NHS patients in the UK, over 13 years. It highlights the stark “postcode lottery” of how people living in some parts of the country have access to lower quality healthcare.

The results found that while cardiologists treating patients in London and the south-east had the best survival rates among heart attack patients, patients being treated in the north-east and east of England had the worst.

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Among 100 otherwise identical patients, an additional six patients living in the north-east and east of England would have survived for at least a year if they had instead been treated by a similar doctor in London.

Furthermore, if the effectiveness of doctors treating heart attacks in these areas of the country were just as effective as the cardiologists in London, an additional 80 people a year in each region would survive a heart attack.

The research also revealed a divide between rural and urban areas of England, with patients living in the former typically receiving treatment from less effective doctors compared with those in more urban areas.

George Stoye, an associate director at the IFS and the author of the research, said that cardiologists of equal skill are not consistently found in different parts of the country, meaning that otherwise identical patients have different survival outcomes.

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Stoye said: “A key tenet of the NHS is to provide equal access to care for those with equal needs. However, this research shows that patients living in different parts of the country do not have access to the same quality of care. This means that patients living in certain areas – particularly in the north-east and the east of England – receive, on average, worse care than patients living in other areas. However, even doctors working at the same hospital deliver very different outcomes.”

He added: “Patients have little choice over who treats them in an emergency situation, and the care quality they receive will vary according to the time and the place in which they seek care. Hiring and training doctors takes time, but the research shows that it is important that policymakers invest in carefully monitoring quality, to ensure that best practice is widely spread, and take other steps to ensure equal access to high quality care across the country.”

Charmaine Griffiths, the chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Where heart attack patients live shouldn’t determine the quality of the treatment and care that they receive.

“But sadly this analysis shows that heart patients experience a great deal of variation depending on which part of the country they live in. We know that this is driven by a range of factors including travel time to hospital in rural areas, what equipment is available within a hospital, and the number of doctors and nurses in a particular area.

“At a time when demand on the NHS has never been greater, we urgently need a fully funded cardiovascular care strategy. Government must ensure that there are enough heart doctors and nurses who have the tools they need to provide patients with the best care, wherever they are.”

The Department of Health and Social care has been contacted for comment.