British Heart Foundation reveals huge drop in North East's echo tests during Covid-19 lockdown
Echocardiograms, also known as echo tests, are ultrasound scans that enable doctors to diagnose, give a prognosis, and determine follow-up treatment for a range of heart conditions.
But as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of completed echo tests fell by more than 68% across April and May compared to February this year, latest NHS England data has confirmed.
Only 3,995 echo tests were carried out in April and May this year, compared to 13,615 completed in the same months last year.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) says heart patients have been hit doubly hard by the Covid-19 pandemic as long waits for tests like echocardiograms could lead to more deaths from undiagnosed heart conditions.
At the same time, people living with heart and circulatory disease are more likely to develop complications from Covid-19.
The region’s data
Data obtained by the British Heart Foundation shows that in Sunderland there has been a 64% decrease in the number of echocardiogram tests undertaken from February to May 2020.
In February there were 636 echocardiogram tests undertaken, in April 209 tests and in May 255 tests.
In South Tyneside the decrease in echocardiogram tests was 67%. In February there were 340 tests, in April 78 and in May 149.
Comparatively in Northumberland there was a 71% decrease. In February there were 692 tests, April 130 tests and May 270 tests undertaken.
While in County Durham the decrease was 66%. In February there were 1,364 tests, April 309 tests and in May 622.
As the number of completed echo tests has fallen, patients have been waiting longer for these tests due to a fall in GP referrals and the temporary pausing of cardiology services for all but the most urgent cases.
By the end of May this year, around 66% of people referred for an echo had been on the waiting list for six or more weeks, compared to just 2% at the end of February.
Long-term delays to this kind of treatment and care could lead to a devastating domino effect which results in greater pressure on hospitals and worsening health for patients, according to the BHF.
The leading charity is calling for heart services to be reinstated quickly and safely as a priority.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Medical Director at the BHF and Consultant Cardiologist, said: “Echocardiograms and other tests are used to diagnose and monitor a range of heart and circulatory conditions and are often among the first steps in someone’s treatment journey.
"Delaying them could have a devastating knock-on effect on the rest of their care, preventing them from accessing the specialist treatments they may desperately need in time.
"Restoring and maintaining care for patients living with long-term conditions, such as heart and circulatory diseases, must now become a priority.”