Heart expert reveals £900m cost of tackling problem

The Northern Echo: CARE TEAM: Staff from the stroke unit with Professor Roger Boyle, back row, second from left CARE TEAM: Staff from the stroke unit with Professor Roger Boyle, back row, second from left

ENGLAND’s “heart tsar” has revealed that it has taken almost £900m to close the gap between heart treatment in Western Europe and the UK.

Speaking on a visit to the North-East, Professor Roger Boyle, the NHS director for heart disease and strokes, said that since he was appointed to lead the war on heart disease nine years ago, about £100m a year has been invested in improving facilities for heart patients.

Prof Boyle, who was asked to tackle long waiting lists for heart patients by the then Health Secretary, Darlington MP Alan Milburn, said the task has been accomplished.

He said: “It means all those long, dreadful waiting lists have been abolished.

“The median time for getting a heart operation now is about six weeks from start to finish.”

When he was appointed, patients in the North-East were routinely waiting 18 months for heart bypass surgery.

Many patients died on hospital waiting lists before the massive increase in investment.

At the time, The Northern Echo launched its Chance To Live campaign, calling for heart surgery waiting times to be brought into line with Western Europe.

Mr Milburn has acknowledged the role of the newspaper in helping to build support for increased investment in heart facilities. Now Prof Boyle is overseeing an attempt to dramatically improve services for stroke patients in the UK.

During a visit to open a 20- bed stroke unit at South Tyneside District Hospital, he said he believed improvements in stroke services could be achieved by better organisation rather than more money.

He said: “It is more about organisation and not so much about the need for equipment and facilities.”

Prof Boyle said the North- East “used to be ahead of the game” in terms of improved stroke services, but the region had now “slipped a little” as other areas made rapid improvements.

He said: “There is scope for improvement everywhere.

That is why virtually every primary care trust in the country is now putting stroke as the number one priority.”

He said every acute hospitals in England now had a stroke service, “which is something that has really been achieved over the last three years”.

Statistics have shown that having a stroke unit dramatically improves the prospects for stroke patients.

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