THE number of people on cardiology waiting lists is at the highest level on record in Scotland, according to analysis by a charity.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) claimed underfunding of the NHS has led to the lengthy waiting lists and called on the Scottish Government to “act now and invest in cardiology services”.

The charity released figures revealing that fewer than three in 10 people are being seen within six weeks for echocardiograms – a key test to diagnose and monitor certain heart diseases. The charity also said fewer than half of people see a cardiologist within 12 weeks.

Almost 1200 people have been waiting for more than a year for the test, and more than 750 people have been waiting for more than a year to see a cardiologist.

The charity says that the longer people wait for a diagnosis or treatment, the greater the risk of avoidable ill health and death.

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More than 18,000 people died from heart and circulatory diseases in 2022 in Scotland, the highest number of deaths since 2008. The charity also warned there is an increase in premature deaths and cardiovascular disease in under-75s, with more than 5350 deaths from these diseases in 2022. The BHF said investment in heart disease service improvement was £3 million over the last decade, although Scotland spends an estimated £880m on cardiovascular disease healthcare costs.

Jonathan Roden, policy and public affairs manager at BHF Scotland, said: “For 60 years, deaths from heart disease were on the decline in Scotland, in part thanks to the medical breakthroughs funded by the BHF. But worryingly, that trend has reversed.

“Over the last 10 years, dedicated, world-leading health professionals have worked with the Scottish Government to develop plans to improve heart disease services, but these plans have been repeatedly held back by chronic under-investment.

“Cardiology services are under more pressure than ever, and more patients are waiting longer than ever, which is leading to poorer patient outcomes. The Scottish Government needs to act now and invest in cardiology services to tackle the trend of increasing cardiac deaths, including coronary heart disease, which is still Scotland’s biggest killer.”

The research was carried out using data from a freedom of information request. It found a trend across the cardiology pathway.

Between March 2019 and September 2023, the number of people waiting for an outpatient appointment rose from 8562 to 23,027. In the last year, the waiting list has grown by more than 5000. Freedom of Information data shows that between June 2020 to June 2023, the number of people waiting for an echocardiogram increased from 11,745 to 19,054.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “The rate at which new cases of coronary heart disease occur and the rate of deaths from coronary heart disease has declined over the last decade. However, the gradual increase in the rate of deaths over the past four years reinforces the importance of continued action to deliver our 2021 Heart Disease Action Plan.

“This plan sets out actions to minimise preventable heart disease and ensure that people with suspected heart disease have timely and equitable access to diagnosis, treatment and care. We are making progress in the delivery of these actions, including the development of nationally agreed pathways and ensuring the effective use of data to drive improvements.”

They added: “Under this Government, the number of cardiology consultants within NHS Scotland has increased by 95.6% or by 71.4 whole-time equivalent (WTE) from 74.6 WTE as at September 2006 to 146.0 WTE as at September 2023.

“We remain determined to drive down waiting times and are working with boards to reduce long waits which have been exacerbated by the impacts of the global pandemic.”