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Some 27,000 Australians missed heart checks during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced some 27,000 people to skip heart health checks, the Heart Foundation says, meaning nearly 350 heart attacks, strokes and heart-related deaths won’t be prevented.

The Heart Foundation on Sunday released modelling showing 345 heart attacks, strokes and heart disease deaths will occur over the next five years that could’ve been prevented with check-ups.

This is because 27,000 fewer checks took place over the 16 months from March 2020, when COVID-19 took hold, to July 2021.

Heart Foundation chief medical adviser Garry Jennings says people have been hesitant to seek out routine tests during the pandemic and it could lead to a “wave of heart disease” over the next five years.

“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,” Prof Jennings said.

He said people with heart attack symptoms overseas were also waiting longer to seek urgent medical attention due to COVID-19.

The modelling showed Queensland and Western Australia, least affected by COVID-19 restrictions, had the highest rate of screenings.

In those two states, 30 heart health checks were conducted per 1000 eligible adults, compared to 25 in 1000 in the national population.

The heart health check is currently available to Australians aged 45 and over and Indigenous Australians aged 30 and over.

However, it is a temporary item on the Medicare Benefits Scheme.

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

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

Heart attacks are responsible for almost one in 20 deaths in Australia, while coronary heart disease is responsible for one in 10 deaths.