The latest national heart failure audit has found a significant downturn in the mortality rate among heart failure patients admitted to hospital over the past year, but says the number of deaths remains too high as does the variation in care between trusts.

The audit, which is managed by the National Institute of Cardiovascular Outcomes Research (NICOR), looked at data from 66,695 admissions to hospitals in England and Wales between April 2015 and March 2016.

It found that 8.9 percent of these patients died during the period, compared to 9.6 percent for 2014/15, which equates to around 500 extra lives having been saved over the year.

However, an 8.9 percent inpatient mortality “cannot be accepted and requires urgent attention within every acute trust admitting patients with heart failure,” the report stresses.

In another plus, the assessment also shows that more people are being provided with crucial medicines for heart disease as well as greater access to treatment by heart specialists.

The number of people being treated for heart failure with reduced ventricular ejection fraction, who were seen by a specialist and received all three of the key prescriptions for this condition, has increased from 45 percent to 47 percent.

Also, eighty percent of patients reporting heart failure at hospitals in England and Wales were seen by specialists, while nine in ten patients admitted to hospital received an echocardiogram, the key diagnostic test in heart failure conditions.

“This independent study shows that improvements to NHS heart failure services have had a significant positive impact for people suffering this devastating condition,” said Sir Bruce Keogh, national medical director at NHS England. “Increasing numbers of patients are getting specialist help and the full range of treatments thanks to years of world-leading scientific and clinical research and the efforts of NHS staff.”

On the downside, the audit highlights the “considerable variation in the quality of care delivered by different hospitals, and in different wards within a hospital”, and that leaders should act “understand and act upon variations in their care of people with heart failure”.

Chief executives, medical directors and clinical leaders at provider centres should also be aware that data from the national heart failure audit will be used to validate the application of the best practice tariff (BPT) in heart failure in England, which for acute heart failure is higher than the standard tariff, and by the Care Quality Commission to monitor acute trusts, it stressed.