Cork expert issues warning on post-cardiac care as waiting lists increase

Cork expert issues warning on post-cardiac care as waiting lists increase

Cork’s Cardiac Rehab Coordinator, Irene Murphy, spoke about the potential impact for those affected. It comes after a warning from the Irish Heart Foundation that lifesaving rehabilitation for heart patients is now in “absolute crisis”.

A CORK frontline worker has expressed grave concern about the future of post-cardiac care in Ireland as more than 2,800 remain on waiting lists for rehabilitation.

Cork’s Cardiac Rehab Coordinator, Irene Murphy, spoke about the potential impact for those affected. It comes after a warning from the Irish Heart Foundation that lifesaving rehabilitation for heart patients is now in “absolute crisis”.

The cardiac rehabilitation waiting list for heart attack, stroke and heart failure patients has exceeded 2,800 — a 54% increase since 2013 — while staffing levels have plummeted by 40%.

The data was identified as part of a joint research initiative with the Irish Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation (IACR) and the Irish Heart Foundation.

Cardiac rehabilitation is delivered through various disciplines, ranging from specialist nursing staff to pharmacists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, smoking cessation specialists and cardiologists.

Ms Murphy explained why these services have become more important than ever.

"There is emerging evidence about long Covid and the effect it will have on the heart," she said. 

"Covid has affected lots of people differently. There is a cohort of patients that will complain of palpitations. We are not fully sure what the full extent of that will be for people. It's really important that people who have had long Covid are able to avail of rehab to return to the level of functioning they had before Covid-19."

She explained how a lack of care in this area could be potentially life-threatening.

"If an area that has been problematic has been fixed there is nothing to stop plaques from forming in the future and the disease to progress. 

"That's why it's so important to address the risk factors and lifestyle modifications. I don't think we're going to see the true impact of the pandemic for a while. The health issues may not show up today or tomorrow. However, they might be seen in a few month's time."

SERVICES

She described the significant effect the pandemic had on cardiac rehabilitation services.

"So much changed throughout the pandemic and trying to deliver a group programme has been very difficult for centres," she said. 

"A number closed and staff were redeployed within the initial 12 weeks. In the initial lockdown, people were fearful about coming near a hospital. There would have been delays in diagnoses.

"People weren't sure how they would fare if they were to contract Covid and that only added to the anxiety.

"It's been really difficult for hospitals to get back those services and the waiting lists have grown quite substantially. If you can only take in a certain amount of patients at a time waiting lists are going to grow as a consequence."

Ms Murphy acknowledged the effect cardiac issues can have on a patient's mental health.

"Oftentimes what they express the most concern about is a loss of confidence. There is a lot of anxiety around what they can no longer do. It's only when a patient goes home that the reality really hits them. Intervention is only part of the story. You want to protect the patient for life. The patient needs to become an active part of their disease management."

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