Six-week waits for crucial heart scans 'doubled over pandemic,' charity claims

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the BHF

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the BHF - Credit: DAN KENNEDY

The number of people waiting more than six weeks for crucial heart scans in east London has more than doubled since the beginning of the pandemic. 

British Heart Foundation (BHF) research revealed 77 people across east London had waited more than six weeks to receive echocardiograms in September 2021. 

That compares with 34 in February 2020. 

The data cover areas managed by North East London Clinical Commissioning Group (NEL CCG): Barking and Dagenham, the City, Hackney, Havering, Newham, Redbridge and Waltham Forest. 

Echocardiograms, which look at the structure of the heart, are routinely used to diagnose congenital heart disease and heart valve problems.  

Hundreds are carried out monthly by the NHS in east London, but capacity has been limited during the pandemic by Covid safety measures. 

This has been exacerbated by rising demand, although the NHS continues to encourage people to seek advice and treatment as soon as they can in order to prevent long-term health risks.

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Additionally, the BHF is concerned there is a large “hidden” backlog of people with heart disease who have yet to make it onto treatment waiting lists. 

Its associate medical director, Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, said: “The long delays we now see for heart imaging tests create a domino effect of disruption to heart care and treatment that ultimately puts lives at risk." 

An NEL CCG spokesperson said the service had faced “huge challenges” due to Covid. 

They said: “We are continuing to work closely with our local partners to ensure people have ongoing access to the diagnostic tests and treatment they need.   

“This includes work with our local hospital trusts to tackle the backlog and reduce waiting lists, and we are also trialling innovative ways to accelerate elective recovery and enable additional tests and scans to be carried out more quickly.” 

Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, which manages Queen's and King George hospitals, said it had no backlog for echocardiograms and were booking patients for these tests in four weeks, well below the national six-week target. 

The trust's head of cardio-respiratory diagnostics, Jude Skipper, said: “Postponing routine appointments during the pandemic meant we did have a backlog of over 2,000 patients in October 2020; however, our teams worked extremely hard to tackle this by holding additional evening and weekend sessions.”