Revealed: NHS cuts could target heart attack patients in Surrey and Sussex

Patients at risk of a heart attack could be denied vital tests and potentially life-saving operations under NHS plans to make £55m of budget cuts in an area in which four cabinet ministers are local MPs, the Guardian can reveal.

NHS organisations in Surrey and Sussex are considering restricting the number of patients who have an angiogram or an angioplasty – the insertion of stents to tackle blocked arteries – despite the evidence that both procedures reduce the risk of patients dying.

The disclosure came as senior Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, the chair of the Commons health select committee, urged ministers to scrap the “capped expenditure process” – the secretive cost-cutting regime which the NHS is imposing on 14 areas of England in a bid to save £500m – because it involves “draconian” cuts to services that will hit patient care.

“I don’t think that these extra cuts are reasonable. You can’t justify £500m to the DUP while taking another £500m out of the English NHS,” she told the Guardian.

“The kind of issues that are being discussed [in the 14 areas subject to the CEP] would involve draconian measures that would have an impact on public health and services. [And] I do have concerns about ultimately patient safety.”

Hospitals routinely use an angiogram to assess the health of a patient’s heart. The number of people in the UK undergoing angioplasty has risen eightfold since the early 1990s to almost 100,000 a year, reflecting its growing popularity as a non-invasive alternative to a heart bypass.

Cutting the number of people who have either is one of a range of options which NHS bosses in Surrey and Sussex are considering in order to save £55m more under the CEP by March 2018 than the £106m of “efficiency savings” already agreed.

NHS bodies in Surrey and Sussex privately admit that fewer people will have those procedures as part of their plan to save the £55m by reducing “huge variation” in patients’ chances of having one, depending on which hospital they are treated at and which cardiologist they see. “We have to rationalise cardiac investigations and treatments. There’s variation of 60% to 70% between hospitals. We’re looking into why that is. Who in future won’t get an angiogram? That’ll be up to cardiologists,” said one senior doctor.

In future an unknown number of patients at risk of a heart attack will be monitored by “watchful waiting” rather than given an angiogram or angioplasty, the doctor explained.

Senior NHS sources in the area have disclosed that they are also being forced to consider proposals to:

  • Ration knee arthroscopy operations, cataract removals and tonsillectomies
  • Introduce “lifestyle rationing” so that patients who are obese and smoke will have to lose weight and stop smoking before they can have, for example, a knee replacement to treat their arthritis
  • Shut beds or even whole wards in community hospitals
  • Restrict patients’ access to hearing aids and IVF treatment

“We have been told to leave no stone unturned and think the unthinkable [in the quest to save the £55m],” one local senior NHS figure said, speaking anonymously.

Full story in the Guardian, 14 July 2017