Date Published: 20 November 2006

British 'reserve and stoicism' is costing lives, says heart charity

A staggering 40% of people would not make 999 their first call if they suspected they were having a heart attack, a survey for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has revealed.

And an even greater number, 64%, say they would call someone other than 999 first if they were experiencing chest pain – the main symptom of a heart attack.

The findings, from a YouGov poll, are revealed as the BHF today launches its ‘Doubt Kills' campaign, urging people not to delay in calling 999 if they are experiencing chest pain. The campaign features a billboard advert showing a man with a belt tightening around his chest, with the caption ‘A chest pain is your body saying call 999'.

Professor Peter Weissberg, BHF Medical Director, said:

These statistics portray a very worrying, and perhaps very British, reluctance to call 999 even in the most serious of emergencies. Maybe it is our natural reserve and stoicism, but it is costing lives.

_ Every second counts when you are having a heart attack, and the quicker you call 999 the greater your chances of survival. Unfortunately too many people waste vital minutes questioning their symptoms – our message is if you're suffering chest pain, call 999 immediately, because doubt kills.

Evidence shows that people experiencing heart attack symptoms delay an average of 90 minutes before an ambulance is called. By the time treatment to restore blood flow to the heart is given, an average of 2 hours and 40 minutes has passed – but in many cases this delay is even longer. Those who receive treatment 4-6 hours after the onset of symptoms are twice as likely to die as those who get treatment within 1-2 hours.

The YouGov poll showed that most people would first call their partner, friend, relative, GP or NHS Direct when experiencing chest pain - with 80% citing doubt about the seriousness of the situation to be what stops them dialling 999, and 42% preferring to ‘wait and see' if their chest pain gets better.

The ‘Doubt Kills' campaign aims to help reduce death and disability from coronary heart disease, which is the UK's single biggest killer with almost 106,000 deaths in 2004.

Professor Weissberg added:

Someone suffers a heart attack every two minutes in the UK , and about one in three dies before reaching hospital. Many more suffer life-long debilitation because their heart muscle has been permanently damaged. Sadly many of these deaths and heart muscle damage could have been avoided if people had sought help immediately. Successful treatments for heart attacks are available in the form of clot-busting drugs and procedures to open blocked arteries.

_ Central chest pain is the most common warning sign of a heart attack, but it does not have to be excruciating to be a serious problem. The most common mistake people make is to assume it is indigestion, so anyone experiencing bad indigestion-like symptoms should call for help, particularly if they are not prone to indigestion normally.”

There are other symptoms to be aware of such as a dull chest pain that radiates to the left arm or jaw, breathlessness and sweating – a combination of which can indicate urgent danger.

A host of celebrities who have been touched by heart disease are backing the ‘Doubt Kills' campaign, including TV presenter Carol Vorderman , Eastenders and Dad's Army star, Ian Lavender , soap actor Joe Swash , film actress Phyllida Law , former Coronation Street, Eastenders, The Bill and Strictly Come Dancing star, Ray Fearon , radio DJ Jono Coleman , and former Casualty and Strictly Come Dancing stars, Will Thorp and Georgina Bouzova .

Will Thorp's mum died of a heart attack whilst on holiday with his dad in Devon in 1999. Will was at drama school at the time. He said:

I know all too well how devastatingly quickly a heart attack can happen. Every minute counts and if you get a warning sign, like chest pain, you shouldn't ignore it. It's your body saying call 999.

_ My message to people is don't be a DIY doctor – if you think there's even the slimmest chance you might be having a heart attack, don't waste time doubting it. You might not live to be able to regret it.

The campaign also has the support of all ambulance services across the UK .

Richard Diment, Chief Executive of the Ambulance Service Association, said:

People need to know that we want them to call 999 if they are experiencing chest pain. It might or might not be a heart attack - but if you're not sure, let us make that decision.

_ All ambulance services in the UK are backing the BHF's campaign because we're all in the business of saving lives and we'd rather attend a false alarm than arrive too late.

As part of the campaign, the BHF is sending more than 750,000 leaflets to all GP surgeries and Co-op Pharmacies and the campaign poster will go up on 2,500 billboards across the UK . People are urged to visit the campaign website,, for more information about how to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack and what to do.


Source: British Heart Foundation.

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