NORTH-EAST specialists have shown that you are just as likely to survive a heart attack in the most rural of areas as you are if you live near to a hospital.

They also found that the most important thing to do is to ring 999 for an ambulance as soon as you suspect you are having a heart attack.

The findings of leading cardiologists from the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle are published in the European Heart Journal.

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Patients suspected of suffering from a particular type of heart attack caused by a complete blockage of a coronary artery, should be taken directly to the nearest specialist cardiac centre - even if it means driving past other A &E units.

Specialist heart centres at the Freeman and James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough have the expertise and facilities to carry out an angioplasty enabling the unblocking of the artery as quickly as possible and improving the chance of survival.

Dr Alan Bagnall, consultant cardiologist at the Freeman Hospital and lead author of the study said: “We strongly encourage any patient who thinks that they are having a heart attack to call an ambulance immediately, regardless of how close they live to a hospital.”

Ambulance crews can diagnose heart attacks in a patient's home and arrange safe, quick transfer to the nearest specialist centre, he added.

The study – which looked at 2,300 North-East patients who had a heart attack between 2008 and 2011- also found that a quarter of patients with heart attacks inappropriately go to their nearest hospital while 70 per cent of patients with heart attack symptoms waited longer than 30 minutes before calling for medical help.