Missed checks due to COVID-19 could lead to wave of heart disease in Australia: report

Hundreds of Australians could have serious and even fatal consequences from preventable heart conditions after skipping routine health checks during the coronavirus pandemic, a report has found.

The Heart Foundation on Sunday released an analysis of heart health checks conducted across Australia since March 2020.

It revealed that at least 27,000 people have been forced to skip checkups due to COVID-19 restrictions.

According to the Heart Foundation modeling, 345 heart attacks, strokes or heart-related deaths could have been prevented over the next five years if the checks had not been missed or delayed.

Garry Jennings, the foundation’s chief medical adviser, said the missed checks could lead to a wave of heart disease in Australia.

“Fewer people having a heart health check means that risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are generally silent or symptom-free, go undiagnosed and potentially worsen, increasing people’s risk of a heart event in the future,” he said in a media release.

“What we do not want to see is a drop in heart health screening coupled with what we are seeing overseas as a result of the pandemic, in that people with heart attack symptoms are waiting longer to seek medical attention. This could create a dangerous situation.”

The report found that Queensland and Western Australia, the mainland states least affected by COVID-19, averaged 30 heart checks per 1,000 people compared to the national average of 25.

The heart health check is available to all Australians aged 45 and over and Indigenous Australians aged above 30 through their doctors.

The checks were temporarily added to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) in 2019, meaning they are subsidized by the government.

“This concerning data reinforces the urgency of making heart health checks a permanent part of the MBS,” Jennings said.

“Doctors will be dealing with a backlog of people who need preventative heart health care for years to come.”