EVERY three minutes, someone in the UK has a heart attack. Thirty per cent of these will be fatal.

Statistics show more than 2.3 million people in the UK are living with some sort of heart disease – many without knowing it.

So, if you are going to be struck down with a heart attack, it’s comforting to know in south Essex the odds of surviving are stacked in your favour.

In fact, emergency patients taken to the Essex Cardiothoracic Centre at Basildon Hospital after a heart attack have one of the highest chances in the country of making a good recovery.

About 30,000 people in Britain have a cardiac arrest outside of hospital every year, and their chances of making it alive to an emergency department are around 50/50.

If they do, their chances of making a full recovery, without damage to the brain or other organs, will depend on the quality of treatment they receive.

Dr John Davies, cardiology consultant at the specialist heart centre, which opened in the grounds of Basildon Hospital in 2007, explains: “Data at the centre shows a particularly high survival rate, given the severity of the patients’ conditions.

“We think this is due to teamwork, rapid treatment and management of the heart disease and the effects that cardiac arrest has on other organs. We believe this can only be provided at centres like ours, where the facilities and expertise are available round-theclock, every day of the year.”

The centre recently hosted a study day to share knowledge with other cardiac clinical staff from hospitals in London and East Anglia.

Dr Davies told delegates that 20 years ago he could never have imagined the improvements that would be made in the treatment of hospital cardiac arrests. He said: “Such progress is a shining example of teamwork – what we refer to as the ‘chain of survival’ for patients. The first link in the chain may be a bystander who knows how to administer chest compressions and rescue breaths (CPR) until another ‘link’ arrives – the paramedic team.

“In hospital, the patient will then be treated by doctors, nurses and therapists from nearly 20 different disciplines, including cardiology, radiography, neurology, renal, intensive care, physiotherapy, cardiac rehab, to name a few.

“Along with these clinical specialists, follow-up care from the centre’s psychological support service, the patient’s GP and their family, are all essential elements of the chain of survival.”

Emergency patients treated at the centre also benefit from the latest techniques and equipment, including state-of-the-art ‘cath labs’ where imaging, tests and cardiology procedures are carried out. And the specialist centre is one of only two in Britain to offer a treatment called therapeutic hypothermia (TH), where the patient is rapidly cooled before the artery is opened by cardiologists.

Dr Thomas Keeble, interventional cardiology specialist registrar, said: “Clinical trials show that if the patient is cooled after a heart attack, there is a significant reduction in the physical or neurological damage.

“When an artery is blocked, the surrounding heart muscle dies.

When we open up the artery, the muscle that has died is further damaged by the rapid reflow of blood – about half the injury to the heart following a cardiac arrest is caused by this.

“By cooling the patient before we open the artery, we can significantly reduce this damage. It’s essential to do this quickly – we begin TH on the patient immediately on arrival and in most cases, get their body temperature to the target 33 degrees while they are still in the cath lab.”