MORE people are waiting longer for vital heart scans in Dorset than before the pandemic, a charity has warned.

A study from the British Heart Foundation found that the number of people waiting more than weeks for an echo cardiogram at Dorset CCG has risen from two in February 2020 (before the pandemic) to 110 in September 2021.

In the South West, 17 times more people than before the pandemic were waiting over six weeks for the key scans that can diagnose heart disease, the analysis found.

At the end of September, 8,397 people in the South West waited more than six weeks for heart ultrasounds (known as echocardiograms), compared to 480 people who were waiting this long at the end of February 2020.

Echocardiograms, or echos, are tests which look at the structure of the heart and are used when someone has had a heart attack, or if they have heart failure. They are often used to routinely diagnose congenital heart disease and heart valve problems.

As NHS England works hard to recover from the pandemic’s disruption to “routine” care, significantly more echo tests are being performed in England now than during the first 2020 lockdown. However, the BHF’s analysis shows that, on average, around 10,000 fewer echo scans are carried out each month than before the pandemic.

The heart charity warns that widescale disruption and reduced access to these vital tests has created a huge “hidden” backlog of people with heart disease who have not yet made it onto treatment waiting lists.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Medical Director at the BHF, said: “Waiting lists for heart treatments were too long even before the pandemic began, and they are now rising to record levels.

“Yet this is only half the story. Without an echocardiogram, doctors can’t see how well the heart is working and if someone needs potentially life saving treatment for heart disease.

“This matters because 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. This is all the more tragic when effective heart treatments exist.

“The backlog of these vital heart tests must be urgently addressed. We need to see a specific plan for cardiovascular care recovery focused on tackling cardiology vacancies, training more heart specialists, and using new diagnostic hubs to deliver delayed heart diagnosis and care. This could make all the difference in preventing more deaths and disability from treatable heart conditions.”

A spokesperson for the NHS in Dorset said: “As with many services, diagnostic tests have been disrupted by pandemic and we are experiencing an increased demand in this area. We are working hard to reduce waiting times for local patients and are investing in additional echocardiograms in coming months.

"The Outpatient Assessment Clinic opening on the top floor of Beales department store in the Dolphin Centre, Poole, in December has been designed so that it could accommodate echocardiogram services in future as part of our wider development supporting diagnostics in heart disease."