PATIENTS who have had a heart attack wait an average of nearly 80 minutes between calling for an ambulance and being admitted to hospital.
Research by Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust (PHT), which runs Queen Alexandra Hospital, found in 2017 it took 78 minutes. This is an increase of 47 per cent compared to 2011 when the average wait was 53 minutes.
The ambulance service is doing the best job it can under the circumstances, but pressure is now starting to show.Dr Fazlullah Wardak
The researchers looked back at 1,347 cases between 2011 and 2017 and measured the mean time taken from the moment the call was received through to the point the patient arrived at hospital – known as call-to-door time.
John Black, medical director at South Central Ambulance Service (Scas), said outcomes for patients over the same period have improved thanks to the skills of paramedics and improvements in equipment.
He added: ‘When you look at outcomes over the same seven-year time period, at a national level more patients are surviving an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest and more patients are surviving a heart attack.’
The study is being presented to the British Cardiovascular Society Conference in Manchester today. It found growing pressures on the ambulance services, changing of targets and use of first responders seen as the most likely causes of the increase.
Dr Fazlullah Wardak, study author based at PHT, said: ‘This is no reflection on the hard-working paramedics in Portsmouth. The ambulance service is doing the best job it can under the circumstances, but pressure is now starting to show.
‘Although first-responders can play a hugely important role, quickly getting patients into the hospital so we can unblock the artery has to be our primary goal.
‘Our brave paramedics do an incredible job but they need more support and we have to create targets that put patient outcomes first.
‘A delay of nearly 80 minutes is costing the patient in damaged heart muscle, and it’s also costing the health service in the long term.’
For patients who suffer an acute ST-elevated myocardial infarction (STEMI), the most serious type of heart attack, getting treated quickly is key to minimise the damage to the heart muscle.
Around four in five of STEMI patients reach hospital thanks to the ambulance services, which means understanding any delays is critical to improving survival and outcomes.
Although the study did not look at the fate of the patients, the authors say the extra time is likely to worsen outcomes.
Mr Black from Scas said: ‘Unfortunately the research presented at the British Cardiovascular Society by PHT was not shared with Scas prior to the conference.
‘Improved outcomes are the result of the skills of our paramedics and emergency service staff having been enhanced over the seven-year period, along with improvements in clinical equipment and treatment available on our ambulances and rapid response vehicles.
‘Similar improvements have occurred in hospitals treating patients with cardiac problems.’
He added there have been challenges in Portsmouth affecting the availability of their response time.
‘We are working with all our local NHS partners to improve both the quality of acute hospital services available and reduce ambulance delays at hospital.’