he number of Londoners suffering a cardiac arrest during the first wave of the pandemic soared by 81 per cent – with only about one per cent surviving.
Shocking research published by London Ambulance Service today reveals the impact of covid – and the knock-on implications of emergency crews being delayed because the service is deluged with 999 calls.
A total of 3,122 Londoners suffered a cardiac arrest between March 1 and April 30 – up from 1,724 the previous year.
Only 49 people were discharged alive from hospital – down from 70.
LAS researchers Rachael Fothergill and Adam Smith said there was a “clear correlation” between the rise in covid infections and the number of people suffering and dying from cardiac arrest – with five more arrests a day for every 100 new cases.
Their research is the first in the UK to show the link between covid and deaths from cardiac arrest. It is also thought to highlight the impact on people being too frightened to seek care for other medical conditions because of the fear of catching covid in hospitals.
Ambulances took longer to arrive on scene, taking on average 9.3 minutes – breaching the seven-minute NHS target for life-threatening emergencies.
People dialling 999 waited an average of three minutes 20 seconds for their call to be answered due to staff absences at the LAS call centres – up from seven seconds before the pandemic.
Paramedics were further delayed on the scene by having to don full PPE before being able to assess the patient.
The number of calls to LAS increased by 14 per cent to 366,039 over the two-month period, though crews were dispatched on 11,930 occasions, down six per cent on the previous year.
But medics arriving on the scene made fewer attempts to resuscitate patients, down from 39 per cent to 36 per cent.
Of the 1,135 patients on whom resuscitation was attempted, only 4.4 per cent were alive 30 days later – with the figure falling to one per cent among patients known or suspected to have covid.
The first case of covid was reported in London on February 12. Infections peaked on April 4 when 892 new cases a day were being diagnosed – though there was far less testing available than in later waves of the pandemic.
People suffering cardiac arrests were older than normal (average age 71) and more likely to be from BAME communities.
About a quarter of cardiac arrest patients were thought to have covid. These people were less likely to be able to be resuscitated.
The researchers said: “Our findings strongly support a link between Covid-19 and the occurrence of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests.
“Whether such a link is the direct result of the pathophysiology of the disease, or more widely related to indirect factors, such as a reluctance to access medical assistance for conditions pre-empting cardiac arrest, changes to healthcare provision and infrastructure, or even the societal restrictions that accompanied the pandemic, remains to be ascertained.”
They said that the need to don PPE, the 45,000 additional calls to LAS and extended call answering times “may have contributed to the longer response times seen, which may adversely affect outcome”.
They warned that ambulance services needed to prepare for “considerable increases” in cardiac arrests as the pandemic worsened “and the wider healthcare system will need to ensure adequate attention is paid to preventing indirect deaths”.