Government is failing heart attack patients: GPs

A leading medical organisation says the federal government is failing heart attack patients after they are discharged from hospital.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) highlights the problem in a new report tabled by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). It reveals many Australians who are admitted to hospital after suffering a heart attack (an average of 110 each day) are not receiving recommended medication afterwards.

The analysis of 67,800 people admitted to hospital with coronary heart disease found about half had acute coronary syndrome, which includes heart attacks and unstable angina. But of those, only 61 per cent had been dispensed three or more of the recommended preventive medicines within 40 days of leaving hospital.

Read: Millions at risk of heart attack due to high cholesterol

Professor Karen Price, RACGP president adjunct, says the findings highlight the need for the government to do more for such patients.

“The statistics show people who’ve been admitted to hospital for acute coronary syndrome are more likely to have another incident in future,” she says. “So, it would make a big difference if these people were supported to receive coordinated follow-up care with their GP after hospital.”

Prof. Price says the RACGP has been calling on the federal government to provide follow-up support for patients and that “this new report shows why it’s so important”.

Read: Heart attack risk jumps if your blood pressure rises when you do

The RACGP says the funding cuts have been part of a false economy and the government needs to rethink healthcare funding.

Prof. Price says government funding to ensure patients see their GP within seven days of unplanned hospital admissions and emergency department presentations would reduce readmissions. The result would be better long-term outcomes for patients, even those with coronary heart disease.

“And it will save the overall health budget in the long run by reducing expensive hospital readmissions,” Prof. Price says.

The AIHW report also found that 26 per cent of coronary heart disease patients were no longer taking recommended medication a year after leaving hospital, and that those who regularly saw their GP were more likely to be doing so.

While the report concludes that further work is required to identify why some population subgroups were less likely to initiate, or continue to access, preventive medication after hospitalisation for heart episodes, Prof. Price believes the answer lies in government funding.

Read: Heart condition affecting older Australians on the rise

The report highlights the need for the federal government to “pivot healthcare funding”, she says: “General practice is the most frequented health service in our entire health system – around nine in 10 Australians visit a GP every year. But funding for general practice patients is less than 8 per cent of total government health spending.”

A greater investment in preventative healthcare at the GP stage will save more money than is invested through vastly reduced hospital costs, she says.

“If we invest more in preventative care for Australians, and measures to keep people well in the community supported by their GP, we will have a healthier population, higher productivity, and we can reduce expensive hospital case. It just makes sense.”

Have you suffered a heart attack in the past few years? Do you think you received adequate follow-up care? Why not share your experience and thoughts in the comments section below?

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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