Heart disease wave fears

According to new modelling released by the Heart Foundation, 27,000 Heart Health Checks have been missed because of Covid-19, allowing the risk of heart attack and stroke go unmanaged throughout the pandemic – from March 2020 to July 2021.

The Heart Foundation predicts that this may lead to the rise in preventable heart events and deaths over the next five years.

Heart Foundation Chief Medical Adviser and interim Group CEO Professor Garry Jennings says delays in people having their risk assessed could be fatal.

“People have been reluctant to seek routine medical attention during the pandemic and that includes having preventive health checks like a Heart Health Check. This could have serious and even fatal consequences.

“The Heart Health Check is about detecting atherosclerotic disease early and breaking the cycle of CVD and other chronic diseases by identifying risk factors and managing them appropriately,” says Professor Jennings.

“Fewer people having a Heart Health Check means that silent conditions like hypertension and hypercholesterolemia may go undiagnosed and potentially worsen, increasing people’s risk of a heart event in the future.

“What we don’t want to see is a drop in heart health screening coupled with what we are seeing overseas as a result of the pandemic, in that people with heart attack symptoms are waiting longer to seek medical attention.

“This could create a dangerous situation and a backlog of people who need preventative heart health care for years to come, placing additional pressure on general practice.”

The Heart Health Check is the first preventative health assessment MBS item to incorporate absolute cardiovascular disease risk calculation and facilitate yearly assessment.

Reportedly, states least affected by the pandemic, including Western Australia and Queensland, had the highest rates of screening, averaging 30 Heart Health Checks per 1000 eligible adults, sitting well above the national average of 25 checks per 1000 adults.

Lockdowns, as well as the resource-intensive roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination program in GP practices, were linked to dramatic drops of up to 40% in people having the check across the country.

“There’s never been a more important time to support general practitioners, who have taken a big hit in their ability to encourage and deliver preventative care during the pandemic. That’s where the Heart Health Check Toolkit comes in,” says Professor Jennings.

The Toolkit has been designed to streamline the assessment and management of CVD risk, reducing administrative burden, and allowing general practice to get the most out of financial and quality improvement incentives.

“It offers pre-populated assessment and management templates for Heart Health Checks that make it easier for GPs and practice nurses to collect CVD risk factor information and support patients.”

Ahead of World Heart Day on 29 September, the Heart Foundation has integrated the Toolkit into popular GP software, including Best Practice, which streamlines the check so GPs and practice nurses can focus on their patients’ needs.

The Heart Health Check Toolkit can be found at heartfoundation.org.au/hhc-toolkit

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