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Pandemic disrupts treatment for heart conditions.

The postponement of tens of thousands of hospital procedures is putting the lives of people with long-term heart conditions at risk, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

The coronavirus pandemic has created a backlog that will only get larger as patients wait for care, the charity says.

People with heart disease are at increased risk of serious illness with Covid-19, and many are shielding.

Even though cardiology services have started again in England, the BHF estimates that 28,000 procedures have been delayed since the outbreak of coronavirus in the UK.

These are planned hospital procedures, including implanting pacemakers or stents, widening blocked arteries to the heart, and tests to diagnose heart problems.

People hoping for new appointments would already have been waiting for treatment when the lockdown started, the charity said, as it urged the NHS to support people with heart conditions "in a safe way."

A former nurse from Somerset, Sarah Miles, 45, suffers with heart failure after a heart attack and cardiac arrest when she was 38 and has been shielding due to the risk of complications.

She has had several recent appointments cancelled, including a procedure to correct abnormal heart rhythms that she had already waited six months for, and an assessment for a new heart.

She says: "It makes you feel anxious and alone. I understand the practicalities but it's worrying me that there is no plan. No one is keeping me informed. Even accessing medication online is more difficult because doctors need extra time to arrange it.”

A nurse would normally come to her house, where she is sleeping in the front room, to carry out blood tests - but that hasn't happened.

She can no longer walk very far and the hope of a heart transplant keeps her going, but that's likely to be a long way off.

The NHS scaled back services in many areas and redeployed staff to avoid being overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients.

This led to drops in cancer referrals, routine operations and A&E visit and there were concerns that seriously ill people were being put off seeking treatment.

BHF associate medical director, Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, said: "People with heart and circulatory diseases are already at increased risk of dying from Covid-19, and their lives should not be put at even greater risk by missing out on treatment for their condition.

"If hospital investigations and procedures are delayed too long, it can result in preventable permanent long-term complications, such as heart failure."

A BHF survey of 1,409 adults with heart and circulatory conditions carried found that during the crisis, a third had struggled to get the medicines they needed and about 40% had had a planned test or procedure postponed or cancelled.

Some urgent heart procedures have taken place during the epidemic but, although cardiology services have re-started, it is not yet clear how long patients must wait for rescheduled appointments.

An NHS England spokesman said: "Now we are through the first peak of the virus, we are safely bringing back other services, as clearly many people will have worried about seeking help during the outbreak."