Low public confidence in identifying signs of heart attack: new data from NHS England

By Dr Jonathan Shurlock
Edited by Dr Saadia Aslam

Almost half of adults in England are not confident in identifying symptoms of a heart attack, according to a survey carried out by NHS England, as part of the Help Us, Help You campaign.

In the highest risk group of those aged over 55, this rose to 51% of respondents who did not feel confident in recognising the commonly reported symptoms of a heart attack. Over a third of respondents (36%) reported that they would not call 999 for help if they or someone they knew were suffering with chest pain.

These findings are concerning given the improved outcomes in acute myocardial infarction with timely management. Interviewed as a part of the campaign, NHS England national clinical director for heart disease, Professor Nick Linker reports “9 in 10 people will survive a heart attack if they reach hospital early”.

Additionally, the survey explored the public’s understanding of differences between a heart attack and cardiac arrest. Majority (72%) of respondents were unaware of the difference, with 51% believing that the terms are interchangeable. These findings should inform health awareness campaigns, particularly those promoting bystander intervention and the use of public defibrillators

Full survey results are yet to be published but the headline findings are concerning.. Public education remains central to improving healthcare outcomes. Despite relentless technological developments and complex treatment advances for these conditions in hospital, a significant impact on outcomes is likely to come from adequate investment in public health approaches.