Heart failure patients 'fare worse on general wards'

PATIENTS suffering from heart failure are twice as likely to die if they are admitted to general hospital wards, a study finds today.

Heart failure costs the NHS in England and Wales around 600m a year, accounting for more than a quarter of a million hospital deaths and discharges in 2006-7.

An audit of 86 hospitals across England and Wales, led by experts from Castle Hill Hospital, Hull, found those admitted to cardiology wards fared significantly better.

They focused on 6,000 patients, with an average age of 78 and suffering from heart failure, who were admitted to hospital in the 12 months to March 2009.

Researchers found appropriate investigations were not always carried out, with patients admitted to general medical wards less likely to receive these than those on cardiology wards.

Three quarters of patients were given heart trace monitor tests but only two thirds of those admitted to general wards got the checks.

Other key tests were also not carried out on significant numbers of patients.

Half were admitted to cardiology wards but these tended to be younger and were more likely to be men.

Those admitted to general wards were twice as likely to die, even after taking account of other risk factors.

Most patients were given appropriate medicines when they went home but only half were prescribed beta blocker drugs, which are commonly used to treat heart failure.

Women fared worse than men in being given appropriate investigations and treatment, although death rates were similar.

Authors of the study, in the journal Heart, said outcomes for patients were "poor" and called for the same rules prioritising treatment for cancer to be applied to those with heart failure including prompt referral to specialist staff during and after hospital admissions.