Patients who are putting off important heart scans until they get a Covid-19 vaccination risk damaging their health or worse, a worried clinician has warned.
Since the new vaccines became available, a worryingly high number of patients are cancelling or failing to turn up for their ultrasound cardiac scans, said Swansea Bay UHB Head of Clinical Physiology Services, Suzanne Churchill.
So far around 200 patients have cancelled since the vaccines were announced, with many explaining they wanted to avoid hospital, and the perceived risk of contracting Covid-19, until they got their vaccination.
However, Suzanne said that while she understood their concerns, there was no need to worry as there were extensive safeguards against the virus in place at the outpatient clinics. The risk of permanently damaging their health or even risking their lives from not getting a scan in time was significant.
She explained: “Our outpatient clinics are in a completely different area to the hospital wards, and we don’t see any ward patients.
“Our staff are in PPE and we have separate waiting areas where we have reduced the number of people in them so they are able to physically distance easily.
“Patients coming for a scan are in and out in under half an hour.
“We have done everything we can to ensure safety, so there’s no need for anyone to be worried about attending their outpatient scan.”
She added: “These scans are not every day routine ones. If these patients are called for a scan it’s because they need one. If they put off the scan and it’s left too late then they could end up with permanent damage to their heart and in some cases could risk losing their lives.
“With valve monitoring, for example, there is a window of opportunity to act and if that is missed the heart will be too badly damaged to recover.”
The scans are done at Morriston, Singleton and Gorseinon hospitals, but around 50% of current appointments are not being kept. As well as cardiac scans, the service also supports some cancer patients who need investigations ahead of their treatment.
Suzanne is worried that if some scans are delayed for months until people are vaccinated, that as well as the risk to health, the service would be unable to cope with the surge in late demand.
“I liken it to a tsunami,” she said. “We can already see the tide pulling out, and at some time in the future it will flood back in and overwhelm us.
“We won’t be in a position to see a lot of people at once so patients who have put off their scans will risk further delays.
“So we are urging people to please come for their scan when we’ve invited them in for one. It’s really important that they are investigated on time.”
Executive Medical Director Richard Evans added: “It’s really important that people seek medical advice if they have serious symptoms or are due to attend an appointment for a test such as a heart scan.
“We know that not as many people as we would expect are coming to hospital with conditions like heart attacks and strokes and we’re concerned that they’re avoiding seeking medical attention because they’re worried about Covid.
“We are only calling people for appointments when they’re really necessary in order to prevent that condition becoming more serious. All of our departments are now expert in making sure everyone can attend safely and with all the appropriate precautions in place. ”