More than 24,000 female heart patients are missing out on crucial rehabilitation, putting thousands at greater risk from further heart attacks, finds a new report from the British Heart Foundation.

Data from the The National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation, which is funded by the charity and hosted at the University of York, revealed that just 38 percent of female patients who have had a heart attack, angioplasty or bypass surgery receive any cardiac rehabilitation.

Cardiac rehab can help recovery and reduce the chance of another heart event, slashing the number of deaths by 18 percent over the first six to twelve months and cutting readmissions by a third, but the findings show a significant gender imbalance in uptake. All things being equal, a further 5,500 women could take part if male uptake levels (52%) were matched. 

“It is appalling that less than half of eligible female heart patients receive cardiac rehabilitation,” said Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the BHF. “Health services urgently need to make rehabilitation more accessible to women, who are either not referred or are put off attending, to help save more lives.”

Overall, uptake in England needs improving; although around 122,000 patients are eligible, just 47 percent currently receive cardiac rehab, falling well under the 65% government target, and in some parts of the country patients had to wait as long as seven weeks to start rehab following a heart attack, nearly double the recommended 28 days.