CARE of heart failure patients in the UK is inadequate and has not changed in a decade, North-East researchers have warned.
The startling findings by a team at Durham University and Darlington Memorial Hospital also highlights an uncoordinated approach to diagnosis and management of the condition.
The research - initiated and led by Darlington GP Ahmet Fuat - reveals clinicians are uncertain about how to diagnose different types of heart failure and over who has overall responsibility for heart failure management.
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It uncovered an inconsistency in patients' access to tests and services and a lack of awareness by health professionals of dedicated heart failure clinics.
Medical staff also expressed concerns over how to care for heart failure patients affected by other diseases and taking other medicines.
The project - published by BMJ Open and funded by national charity Heart Research UK - calls for:
- Development of clear lines of responsibility
- Better education of GPs and non-heart specialist hospital doctors
- Access to the high quality services and care pathways for all patients
More than a million people are affected by heart failure in the UK, a problem which often goes undetected and under-treated
Between 2008 and 2010 there were 11,354 deaths in the North-East resulting from coronary heart disease (CHD) - a contributing factor to heart failure - and 23,373 deaths in Yorkshire and Humberside.
In 2010/11 the prevalence of CHD among registered GP patients in the North-East - 4.6 per cent - was the highest of any region in England.
The researchers interviewed GPs, cardiologists, physicians and heart failure nurses from across the North-East before compiling a wider national survey of health professionals to compare care across the UK.
Dr Fuat, whose previous work contributed to the setting up of a 'one stop' diagnostic heart clinic at Darlington Memorial, is an honourary clinical professor in the School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health, at Durham University.
He said: "Even though the Government has spent a lot of money on improving heart services, some of the problems we were told about are the same as those ten years ago.
"This is worrying because it means we are still not getting things right for patients with heart failure."
Dr Helen Hancock, a health research methodologist at Durham University, added: "This is more about education than money.
"General physicians often don't know when they see a patient in whom they suspect heart failure what to do next.
"Everybody, GPs, heart failure nurses, cardiologists must have a clearer idea of their roles and we need a robust system of getting the right diagnosis from the off. It is not just a case of applying guidelines.
"There needs to be a clear pathway of care and the same high quality services must be available to all patients."
Darlington MP Jenny Chapman vowed to flag up the research and its findings to the Government.
She said: "I commend Professor Fuat for the work he has done and I will be happy to recommend this research and its findings to the Government.
"I am pleased that work to hopefully put right what is a neglected area is being done right here in the North-East."
- The Northern Echo's Chance to Live campaign, launched in the 1990s, helped change Government policy over coronary care and highlighted concerns over long waiting lists.