More Northland residents are receiving the coronary care that they need sooner than ever before and without having to travel to Auckland.
It has been a year since Whangārei Hospital's new Cardiac Catheter Laboratory (cath lab) named Te Whare Manawa (The House of Heart) opened, resulting in a breakthrough improvement in wait-times for treatment and contributing to better health outcomes.
Between 90 and 95 percent of Northland patients with acute coronary syndromes have been receiving an angiogram within 72 hours of a cardiac event. This significantly exceeds the 70 percent target for DHBs set by the Ministry of Health and makes Northland DHB one of the best performing DHBs in the country.
An angiogram is an x-ray to examine the arteries of the heart to show the extent and location of any narrowing in the arteries, which is often the cause of a heart attack, and determine if the patient needs a coronary stent or bypass surgery to improve blood flow to the heart.
Prior to Whangārei Hospital’s cath lab opening, Northland patients needing an angiogram had to be transferred to Auckland.
Cardiology Clinical Lead Marcus Lee said this meant that some patients waited for days for an angiogram. Delays for this procedure meant that patients did not receive equitable outcomes. Since opening, a substantial number of patients have not required a transfer and have been managed in Whangārei, bringing care closer to home.
“We like to do angiograms within 72 hours of a suspected heart attack because beyond that you lose most of the benefits of restoring blood supply to preserve the heart muscle,” Dr Lee said.
Since the cath lab opened, around 700 angiograms and 150 angioplasty procedures have been done. An angioplasty is a procedure using a catheter and special balloon to insert a stent to widen the narrowing in a coronary artery to improve blood flow to the heart muscle.
Clinical Nurse Manager Lea Callan said patients are both relieved and grateful that they do not need to travel to Auckland for treatment and that it can happen within days.
“Yes, we have pretty happy patients and have had some really good feedback.”
Dr Lee said the cath lab has been a milestone step to develop Northland DHB’s cardiology service.
“We’re attracting nursing staff who want to work in cardiology and we’ve also managed to recruit cardiologists from throughout New Zealand, who bring their specialist skills. For example, we can now provide patients an MRI scan of their heart, whereas previously this also needed to be done in Auckland. In the past year we’ve done 120 cardiac MRIs, which is 30 percent above our projections – reflecting an element of previously unmet need,” he said.
“We are certainly proud of the nursing team who have had to learn everything from scratch as none of them had prior cardiac catheter laboratory skills. Their growth and confidence in learning the technical skills as well as looking after the patient holistically has exceeded my very high expectations.”
Dr Lee said while the cath lab has provided a welcome development in the cardiology service, a significant aspect is the rehabilitation care for patients following a cardiac event. This includes ongoing support and advice to patients, as well as exercise and return to work programmes.
This follow-up care is provided to patients in their homes, by phone or face-to-face video chat, and in-home visits if needed. Community clinics are also held in centres throughout Northland.
It also extends to public health education about maintaining a healthy heart which is key to good health. Embracing a healthy and physically active lifestyle at any age can prevent heart disease and lower the risk for a heart attack.
“In cardiology, we’re like the ambulance at bottom of the cliff, but we want to stop people falling off that cliff,” Dr Lee said.
Northland DHB’s cardiology service has also connected with Manaaki Mānawa - The Centre for Heart Research, based at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at The University of Auckland.
The research centre’s goal is to improve cardiovascular health in Aotearoa through earlier, more precise and personalised prevention, prediction, detection, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
For more about how you can support heart research in Northland, please contact Catherine Davies, Development Manager for Manaaki Manawa - the Heart Research Centre, at email@example.com or 022 396 4661.