Postcode lottery for heart surgery in Scotland


By Cara Sulieman

MODERN heart surgery in Scotland is only available to a handful of patients outside of Edinburgh because so few surgeons are able to carry out the new process.

By-pass surgery on beating hearts is safer and allows patients to recover in days, but it is rare for patients outside of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary to be given it.

Heart patients in Aberdeen and Clydebank are almost always given older surgery which involves stopping the heart and putting them on a by-pass machine.

Leading experts argue that the newer technique carried a much lower risk of complications such as strokes and memory problems.

Shorter hospital stay

ERI surgeon Mr Vipin Zamvar, said: “By-pass surgery is a major operation and like any surgery carries a degree of risk of mortality and morbidity.

“Beating heart surgery can reduce this risk, and this is more apparent in high risk patients.

“There is less blood loss and less need for transfusions. Hospital stay is shorter and recovery is expedited.

“Especially in higher risk patients, the risk of neurological complications is decreased.”

Almost half of ERI operations are done on beating hearts, and the team often perform surgery on patients referred from other health boards.

Kilmarknock electrician Mike Bloch, 61, travelled to Edinburgh to have five arteries replaced with beating heat surgery after his wife, Carol, learnt about it in an article about Mr Zamvar.

“Best possible care”

Carol said: “It’s wrong that most Scots don’t have access to it. Worse still when you consider patients in other parts of the UK have better access.”

Mike said: “My employers provide private health cover and I used that. It went so well I was sitting up in bed reading a newspaper less than 24 hours later.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We expect Scotland’s three specialist heart surgery centres to offer the best possible clinical care.

“All three offer off-pump coronary heart by-pass grafting.

“Decisions to offer which are a matter for local doctors based on what they decide is the most appropriate for patients.”

Glasgow’s Golden Jubilee Hospital does beating heart surgery on 2.5 per cent of patients, while Aberdeen Royal Infirmary carries it out on 1.7 per cent.

In comparison, Edinburgh Royal Infirmary uses the method on 43.5 per cent of patients.