The number of people being admitted to hospital due to heart failure has risen by a third in the last five years, according to a new analysis by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
Heart failure admissions have reached record levels in England, rising from 65,025 in 2013/14 to 86,474 in 2018/19 – a 33 per cent increase (1). This is three times as fast as all other hospital admissions, which have risen by 11 per cent in the same period (2).
With heart failure patients staying in hospital for around 10 days – double the average of five days for all diagnoses – this is putting immense pressure on the NHS (3).
The rise in hospital admissions is reflective of increasing numbers of people living with heart failure in the UK. It’s estimated that around 920,000 people have the condition and the burden of heart failure in the UK is similar to the four most common cancers combined (4).
Several factors could be contributing to the rise in people living with heart failure, including an ageing and growing population, growing numbers of heart attack survivors and stubbornly high rates of people living with heart failure risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Research also suggests that nearly eight in 10 people with heart failure are diagnosed after a hospital admission, even though four in 10 had visited their GP in the previous five years with symptoms such as breathlessness, swollen ankles and exhaustion (5).
The BHF warns that the figures highlight the significant challenge this currently incurable condition poses to the NHS, and says improved ways of detecting, diagnosing and treating heart failure are urgently needed along with more innovative models of care.
The charity has also called for greater access to specialist blood tests and heart scans for GPs to help diagnose heart failure earlier.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Heart failure poses a growing and increasingly complex challenge, not only for people living with the condition, but for those who care for them too. It’s concerning to see yet another increase in hospital admissions – an indication that how we diagnose, treat and care for these patients needs urgent attention.
“There is no cure for heart failure, but with access to the right services and support, people can go on to have a good quality of life for many years. We need to find new and improved ways of delivering this care, including in communities rather than hospitals. Doing so will improve thousands of lives and relieve the unsustainable pressure that heart failure is putting on our health service.”
To address the growing burden of heart failure, the BHF has launched the new £1million Hope for Hearts Fund to test innovative ways of caring for people with heart failure. Innovations could include more effective use of technology and data, new service models or new ways of engaging people in their own care.
The charity is funding more than £41 million of heart failure research, including in regenerative medicine which could lead to new treatments for heart failure. It is also working closely with NHS England to improve the early diagnosis and treatment of heart failure – two priorities set out in the NHS’s Long Term Plan.
Professor Samani added: “Our research aims to harness the potential of regenerative medicine to reverse and cure heart failure, but it is going to take some time before it can help people with heart failure.
“In the meantime, we need to raise greater awareness of the devastating impact of heart failure, and ensure everyone affected receives a quick diagnosis and the best standard of care.”
“Innovative initiatives like our Hope for Hearts Fund will help find new and improved ways of caring for people with heart failure that could rapidly lead to a better quality of life for many thousands of people.”