Heart attack patients have a better chance of survival if they are taken straight to specialist centres for emergency angioplasty instead of accident and emergency departments for clot-busting therapy, new research has found.

The findings – showcased at the British Cardiovascular Society's Annual Scientific Conference this week - showed that less than 3% of patients who received a rapid angioplasty at the Harefield Hospital - which specialises in heart and lung care - died after 30 days, but that the mortality rate tripled to 9% in patients who had first been treated with blood-thinning drugs at a general hospital.

Commenting on the findings, Judy O’Sullivan, Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Both forms of treatment are effective in reducing the risk of death and permanent heart muscle damage by 30%-40%, but in the coming years angioplasty is likely to supercede thrombolysis as the treatment of choice for heart attack patients.”

Speed essential

Dr Miles Dalby, a consultant cardiologist at Harefield Hospital who led the research, said that the results underscore the necessity of prompt treatment for an effective primary angioplasty service, because rapid arrival-to-treatment times “significantly” reduce the number of deaths.

"During a heart attack, blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked which damages it. The sooner the patient receives treatment enabling the blood flow to return to the coronary arteries, the less damage occurs. This gives better long-term results - time is muscle," he explained.

Since 2004, Harefield Hospital has offered patients in North West London fast access to specialist emergency care at its 24-hour Heart Attack Centre. Paramedics have undergone specialist training to identify those patients who would benefit from being transferred directly to the hospital for an immediate primary angioplasty, in the hope that this will help reduce related deaths.

According to the British Heart Foundation, 230,000 UK residents suffer a heart attack each year, of which around 30% die as a result.