Failing NHS Is Missing Heart Attack Signs

| March 17, 2017

In the last few months we have heard one gloomy announcement after another about the state of the UK’s National Health Service, the NHS. The Care Quality Commission or CQC – the body that regulates health and social care services in England – considers the whole system to have reached a “tipping point”. One more straw is likely to break the camel’s back.

In relation to hospitals, the CQC pointed out in a recent report that: “The model of acute care that worked well when the NHS was established is no longer capable of delivering the care that today’s population needs”.1 After almost 70 years, not only has society changed and medical science advanced at a breathless pace, but the incidence of some chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, has rocketed.

This crisis in the NHS is likely to mean even longer waiting times than now if you visit an A&E department (assuming it hasn’t been closed) or if you need a non-emergency operation. And expect NHS staff to be even more stressed and overworked. The CQC still gives hospital staff top marks for care and compassion – but notes that the priority put on patient safety isn’t always matched by effective means of ensuring it.

I reported in earlier posts here and here how the NHS is failing diabetes patients, and particularly those who are admitted to hospital. And it seems that another area where hospital staff are falling down is in spotting the early warning signs of a heart attack. A study by Imperial College London showed that doctors may have missed crucial early indications in up to one in six people who died from a heart attack in hospitals in England between 2006 and 2010.2

These findings are particularly disturbing for people with diabetes, who have a higher risk of heart disease and heart attacks than non-diabetics. Medical records suggested that many patients had complained of fainting, shortness of breath or chest pain, prior to their death, but doctors failed to identify these symptoms as indicating that a heart attack could be imminent.

Doctors need more time to examine patients

The lead author of the study, Dr Perviz Asaria, said: “Doctors are very good at treating heart attacks when they are the main cause of admission, but we don’t do very well treating secondary heart attacks or at picking up subtle signs which might point to a heart attack death in the near future”.

This is worrying because, during the first four weeks after admission to hospital, there are almost as many fatal heart attacks in patients admitted for other reasons as in those admitted because of a first heart attack. The study authors suggest that hospital doctors should be allowed more time to examine patients and look at their medical records. But with the NHS under unprecedented pressure, that simply isn’t going to happen.

If you have diabetes and you need to go into hospital for any reason, you can’t assume that staff will have either the time or the specialist knowledge to do everything necessary to care for you properly.

So, you will need to show doctors and nurses your medications and test results, ask questions about anything you are unsure of, keep an eye on your blood sugar readings, remind staff about diabetes complications and warning signs, and don’t be afraid to make a nuisance of yourself if you feel that your standard of care is being compromised in any way.
Remember, it’s better to be regarded as “the patient from hell” than to risk being carried out feet first.

In my next blog post, I stay with the subject of heart health, with findings that low blood sugar episodes caused by a class of antidiabetic drugs can cause previously unrecognised heart damage.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


1. The state of care in NHS acute hospitals: 2014 to 2016. Findings from the end of CQC’s programme of NHS acute comprehensive inspections. Care Quality Commission, 2017.

2. Asaria P, Elliott P, Douglass M, Obermeyer Z, Soljak M, Majeed A, Ezzati M. Acute myocardial infarction hospital admissions and deaths in England: a national follow-back and follow-forward record-linkage study. Lancet. 2017 Feb 28 (Online ahead of print).

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