Almost 5,000 lives could be saved every year if people with heart failure received specialist care, according to a new report.
The National Heart Failure Audit says about 32% of people with heart failure die within a year of being admitted to hospital.
But this figure drops to 23% for those who are seen by a hospital cardiologist, or who are cared for within specialist heart failure services.
This means almost 5,000 lives could be saved every year, taking the death toll among patients admitted to hospital from about 17,000 to around 12,000 a year.
Today’s audit for England and Wales, which includes analysis of more than 21,000 patient records, was compiled by the NHS Information Centre and the British Society for Heart Failure.
It says around 46% of patients with heart failure admitted to hospital are treated on cardiology wards.
Of those patients who die in hospital, about 12% of those treated on non-cardiology wards die, compared with about 6% of cardiology ward patients.
The number referred to heart failure liaison services also varies greatly, from almost 70% of patients under 45 to less than 21% of those aged over 95.
Heart failure affects about 900,000 people in the UK.
The audit also reveals patients are prescribed less than 50% of the target dose for drugs such as ace inhibitors and beta blockers, which have been shown to cut death rates.
Of around 5,000 who had their dosage recorded for beta blockers, two thirds received less than 50% of the ideal dose. Thousands of others did not have a dose recorded.
And of almost 6,000 patients with a record of ace inhibitors, half received less than 50% of the target dose.
The study also found that people from poorer areas are admitted to hospital about five years earlier than those living in the most affluent areas.
Dr Theresa McDonagh, chair of the British Society for Heart Failure and clinical lead for the study, said: “This audit shows that patients admitted to hospital with heart failure have an unacceptably high death rate.
“Outcomes for these patients can be significantly improved by having specialist cardiology input to their care, administration of appropriate evidence-based doses of key drugs and follow-up by specialist services.”
Professor Roger Boyle, the government’s director for heart disease and stroke, said the audit was vital for exposing flaws in the system.