Patients putting off scans until they receive Covid-19 jab, health board warns

Patients are risking their health by putting off important heart scans until they receive a Covid-19 vaccination, clinicians have warned.

Swansea Bay University Health Board says a “worryingly high” number of patients have cancelled or failed to turn up for ultrasound cardiac scans since the vaccines became available.

Around 200 patients have cancelled so far, with many explaining that they wanted to avoid hospital and the perceived risk of contracting Covid-19 until they have been vaccinated.

Suzanne Churchill, head of clinical physiology services at the health board, said there were extensive safeguards against Covid-19 in place at the outpatient clinics.

She warned that the risk of patients permanently damaging their health or risking their lives by delaying a scan was significant.

“These scans are not everyday routine ones,” she said.

“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.”

Outpatient clinics are in a completely different area to hospital wards and ward patients are not seen there.

Staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and there are separate waiting areas to enable people to physically distance.

Patients coming in for a scan are “in and out in under half an hour”, she said.

But despite this, around 50% of current appointments are not being kept at Morriston, Singleton and Gorseinon hospitals.

The service carries out cardiac scans, as well as supporting some cancer patients who need investigations ahead of treatment.

Ms Churchill said she was worried that if some scans were delayed for months until people were vaccinated, staff 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.”

Richard Evans, executive medical director at Swansea Bay University Health Board, urged patients to attend appointments.

“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,” he said.

“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.”