British ‘reserve and stoicism’ is costing lives in London, says heart charity

~ Four out of 10 prefer to ‘wait and see’ if chest pain gets better than dial 999 ~

A staggering 38% of people in London would not make 999 their first call if they suspected they were having a heart attack a survey for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has revealed.1

And an even greater number, 68%, say they would call someone other than 999 first if they were experiencing chest pain—the main symptom of a heart attack.

The findings, from a YouGov poll, are revealed as the BHF today launches its ‘Doubt Kills’ campaign, urging people not to delay in calling 999 if they are experiencing chest pain. The nationwide initiative is supported by the London Ambulance Service.

The YouGov poll showed that most people in London would first call their partner, friend, relative, GP or NHS Direct when experiencing chest pain—with 82% citing doubt about the seriousness of the situation to be what stops them dialling 999, and 44% preferring to ‘wait and see’ if their chest pain gets better.

The ‘Doubt Kills’ campaign features a billboard advert showing a man with a belt tightening around his chest, with the caption ‘A chest pain is your body saying call 999’.

The campaign aims to help reduce death and disability from coronary heart disease, which remains the UK’s single biggest killer with almost 106,000 deaths in 2004.2

Professor Peter Weissberg, BHF Medical Director, said: “Someone suffers a heart attack every two minutes in the UK, and about one in three dies before reaching hospital. Many more suffer life-long debilitation because their heart muscle has been permanently damaged. Sadly many of these deaths and heart muscle damage could have been avoided if people had sought help immediately. Successful treatments for heart attacks are available in the form of clot-busting drugs and procedures to open blocked arteries, such as primary angioplasties.

“Central chest pain is the most common warning sign of a heart attack, but it does not have to be excruciating to be a serious problem. The most common mistake people make is to assume it is indigestion, so anyone experiencing bad indigestion-like symptoms should call for help, particularly if they are not prone to indigestion normally.”

There are also other symptoms to be aware of such as a dull chest pain that radiates to the left arm or jaw, breathlessness and sweating—a combination of which can indicate urgent danger.

Evidence shows that people experiencing heart attack symptoms delay an average of 90 minutes before an ambulance is called. By the time treatment to restore bloodflow to the heart is given, an average of 2 hours and 40 minutes has passed3—but in many cases this delay is even longer. Those who receive treatment 4–6 hours after the onset of symptoms are twice as likely to die as those who get treatment within 1–2 hours.4

Dr Fionna Moore, Medical Director of the London Ambulance Service said: “Chest pain can be life-threatening and every minute you wait to call for help while you are having a heart attack can lead to irreversible damage to your heart. We are urging Londoners experiencing symptoms such as central chest pain, or a dull chest pain that radiates to the left arm or jaw, breathlessness or sweating, to call 999 and allow our highly-trained staff to assess them and offer the most appropriate treatment.”

Earlier this year, the London Ambulance Service helped set up a network of nine hospitals where heart attack patients can be taken directly for primary angioplasty, bypassing A&E departments and offering Londoners the best chances of survival and a speedy recovery.

Fionna continued: “Primary angioplasty has been shown to be the most effective form of treatment for heart attacks and we are dedicated to providing the best possible care for our patients by working with the hospitals which provide this care across the capital.”

Londoner, Roy Bush, who suffered a heart attack in March this year was taken to the London Chest Hospital by London Ambulance Service staff and received primary angioplasty. Talking about his heart attack, he said:

“I had never had heart problems before and had been helping move chairs at my local church when I began to feel quite unwell. I thought it was indigestion as I’d had an early lunch, so I decided to drive home. Then I started to feel tightness in my chest, and was very hot and sweaty. When I got home I asked my wife to call an ambulance and the London Ambulance Service crews arrived within a few minutes.

“I was lucky enough to be taken into the London Chest hospital for primary angioplasty and after three days I was back home, and haven’t had any problems since—it’s amazing. I was recently lucky enough to meet the London Ambulance Service crew who helped save my life—if it hadn’t been for their quick thinking and excellent care I may not have had the chance to be here and thank them. I would definitely tell other Londoners who experience chest pain to call 999 and let the experts help them.”

A host of celebrities who have been touched by heart disease are backing the ‘Doubt Kills’ campaign, including TV presenter Carol Vorderman; Eastenders and Dad’s Army star, Ian Lavender; soap actor, Joe Swash; film actress, Phyllida Law; former Coronation Street, Eastenders, The Bill and Strictly Come Dancing star, Ray Fearon; radio DJ, Jono Coleman; and former Casualty and Strictly Come Dancing stars, Will Thorp and Georgina Bouzova.

As part of the campaign, the BHF is sending more than 750,000 leaflets to all GP surgeries and Co-op Pharmacies and the campaign poster will go up on over 500 billboards across London. People are urged to visit the campaign website, bhf.org.uk/doubtkills, for more information about how to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack and what to do. The leaflet can also be ordered by calling 0870 600 6566.

– Ends –

For more information about the campaign and the YouGov survey please contact the BHF press office on 020 7487 7172 or 07764 290381 (out of hours) or email [email protected].

For further information regarding the London Ambulance Service Ipsos MORI study please contact Alistair Drummond at the London Ambulance Service on 0207 921 5113.

Notes to editors

1 BHF YouGov survey of 2,523 UK adults, November 2006.
2 British Heart Foundation ‘2006 Coronary Heart Disease Statistics’.
3 Myocardial Infarction National Audit Project (MINAP).
4 The GUSTO investigators. An international randomised trial comparing four thrombolytic strategies for acute myocardial infarction. N Eng J Med 1993;329:763-682.

  • Photo and filming opportunities to launch the ‘Doubt Kills’ campaign are taking place at the London Chest Hospital on Monday 20 November at 8am. For more information, contact the press office.
  • Case studies of patients who have delayed in calling for help are available for interview by arrangement with the press office.
  • A factsheet with further results from the YouGov survey and other statistics is available from the press office.
  • The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is leading the battle against heart and circulatory disease—the UK’s biggest killer. The charity is a major funder and authority in cardiovascular research. It plays an important role in funding education, both of the public and of health professionals, and in providing life-saving cardiac equipment and support for rehabilitation and care.
  • For more information on the BHF, visit bhf.org.uk.

Further background:

In the last year, the London Ambulance Service has received over 82,000 calls from patients reporting potential cardiac or chest-pain-related problems.

Primary angioplasty

Angioplasty is a procedure where clots in the artery are unblocked through the insertion of a catheter and the inflation of a balloon in the affected area.

As of 1 April 2006, nine hospitals offer primary angioplasty 24/7:

  • Hammersmith
  • King’s College
  • Royal Free
  • Harefield
  • London Chest
  • St Thomas ’
  • St George’s
  • St Mary’s
  • The Heart Hospital