CORONAVIRUS lockdown led to 3,600 extra deaths from preventable heart conditions and strokes in Britain, a top expert has warned.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, told MPs that at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 700 Brits unexpectedly died from heart and circulatory diseases each week.
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The leading cardiologist said this included around 300 excess deaths from coronary heart disease and nearly 200 from stroke.
Speaking at the Lords Science and Technology Committee, she said that cardiovascular disease patients had been dealt a “double blow” by the crisis.
Dr Babu-Narayan said: “We are seeing the tragic effect of Covid-19 and statistics related to deaths.
“Whilst Covid-19 explains 80 per cent of the excess mortality you’ve seen during the peak of the pandemic, it does not explain all.
“And it does seem that some of this excess mortality is driven by patients with heart and circulation conditions.”
Her comments came as new official figures today revealed flu and pneumonia are killing ten times more people in England than Covid-19.
To prevent another wave of avoidable deaths, Dr Babu-Narayan urged people not to put off seeing a doctor over fears the NHS is overstretched.
Dr Babu-Narayan added: “Across the whole of the pandemic there have been 3,600 excess deaths from heart and circulatory diseases.
“This raises concern that perceived or real barriers and access to care potentially caused avoidable harm. And this should not be repeated.”
She said that there was a 66 per cent reduction in heart failure admissions and a 50 per cent drop in emergency department attendances for myocardial ischemia, which occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is obstructed by a partial or complete blockage of a coronary artery and can lead to a heart attack.
According to Dr Babu-Narayan, waiting lists at the end of July show that there are more than 180,000 people waiting for investigations and treatment in cardiology or cardiothoracic surgery.
She said: “We need to restore and maintain vital heart services.”
Dr Babu-Narayan said that clinicians need to move towards more individualised risk assessments for patients who may have heart disease.
She added: “Moving forward, patients need clarity about which things they should not delay so that the health service can protect them, rather than them protecting the health service.
“They need to know about which symptoms are changing symptoms or red flags that mean they should seek medical advice but also call up if their care has been postponed.”
She also said more needs to be done for ethnic minority groups in the UK.
Dr Babu-Narayan said: “It’s very concerning to see that people whose ethnic background is non-white have had different care pathways, have had delayed care.”
She added: “I think we need solutions for that.”
Meanwhile, other experts at the hearing said while Covid-19 is a respiratory disease affecting the lungs, it can also cause damage to other organs such as the kidneys and the central nervous system and also have psychological consequences.
Professor Chris Brightling, senior investigator at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), said: “I am very mindful that this is a multi-organ impact which also then goes beyond typical medical responses but also includes the impact on mental health – which we need to then acknowledge and then manage for those who have been affected by Covid-19.”
It comes after new NHS data revealed admissions for seven of the most serious non-coronavirus illnesses plummeted by 173,000 during the lockdown.
There were nearly 6,000 fewer admissions for heart attacks in March and April compared with last year — and almost 137,000 fewer cancer admissions from March to June.
The Daily Mail found the trends laid bare by NHS Digital data for England shows similar falls in other admissions.
This includes those suffering strokes, diabetes, dementia, mental health conditions and eating disorders.
Health experts warn this could have led to many patients dying or suffering long term harm.
Gbemi Babalola, senior analyst at the King’s Fund think-tank told the Mail: “People with some of the most serious health concerns are going without the healthcare they desperately need.
The fact remains that fewer people are being treated by NHS services.
“Compared with the height of the pandemic, the NHS is seeing an increase in the number of patients as services restart, and significant effort is going into new ways to treat and support patients.
“But the fact remains that fewer people are being treated by NHS services.”
Cancer Research UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell added the Covid-19 pandemic has had a “devastating impact on cancer services and the lives of cancer patients”.
The latest NHS England data from June showed urgent cancer referrals were down a fifth compared to the same month last year.
A total of 153,134 were made by GPs in England in June, a fall of 21 per cent from 194,047 in June last year.
But for breast cancer, the number of patients rushed for hospital checks plummeted by 43 per cent to just to 8,495, according to the latest figures.
And just 48 patients started treatment two months after their tumour was picked up by screening – a fraction of the 1,458 who began therapy at the same time last year.
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Sara Bainbridge, from Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “These results from June suggest an alarming backlog of undiagnosed cancer and a growing number of people who are yet to start treatment. This could directly impact on many of these people’s chances of survival.
“There is a lot of work to be done to get cancer care back on track and prevent cancer from becoming the forgotten ‘C’ in the coronavirus pandemic.”
But officials claim cancer services are bouncing back, with GPs making 47,000 extra urgent referrals in June compared to the previous month.