The official line is that the weekly reports of people collapsing in the audience of football matches are no different to normal, only in the past the matches would not have been stopped. There may be an element of truth in that, but the rise in ambulance calls for cardiac and respiratory arrests suggests that people are right in their suspicions and that there are good reasons for genuine concern about the health of the nation’s hearts.
The UK reports detailed and timely public health data, something for which we should be very proud. A weekly report from the 10 English ambulance trusts shows numbers of calls for cardiac or respiratory arrests. The two are grouped together as it is not always clear whether a cardiac arrest was precipitated by a respiratory arrest. The data shows two anomalies:
- a significant rise in arrest calls since spring 2021 and
- a significant rise in the number of expected arrest calls in the baseline figure.
The latter is important as deciding whether there is a problem is critically dependent on knowing what “normal” levels should be. There is no text in the reports detailing why the baseline has shifted so dramatically. The expected number of daily arrest calls rose suddenly in March by about 50 per day – around 30% higher than before.
Other publications have shown such shifts when additional trusts are added to the dataset but all the ambulance trusts have been reporting data throughout this period. What is more, the baseline for other conditions, e.g. overdoses and falls or injuries, have remained constant between 2019 and 2021. The only other baseline that has shifted significantly is that for chest pain which has risen from a steady 1,600 per day to 2,000. The number of calls for chest pain remains around the previous baseline of 1,600.
Another explanation could be that the shift in baseline is caused by a change in the years included in the calculation. The baseline is usually made up of the previous 5 years so in 2019 it would have included 2014-2018 and in 2021 it included 2016-2020. If 2015 had a particularly low level of arrest calls then removing it from the baseline would cause a rise. However, this would be expected to occur from 1st January not March.
Read more: An epidemic of Cardiac Arrests