Are emergency healthcare providers failing to detect heart attack symptoms?

When the signs and symptoms of a heart attack become present it is well documented that patients should call an ambulance immediately as any delay in receiving treatment risks serious consequences.

The importance of recognising heart attack symptoms

Heart attacks can kill and that is why every minute matters. The longer someone waits for their cardiovascular care, the higher their risk of permanent disability or death.

Patients will likely be very anxious following onset of their symptoms and they place their trust in the medical practitioners who become involved in their care. An onset of chest pain is a category 2 call to Ambulance Trusts and the target for response to such a category call is 18 minutes and 90% of calls within 40 minutes. This target time has been missed by many Ambulance Trusts since prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and whilst they are now recovering there is still work to be done.

Whilst in attendance a paramedic will ask a patient a number of questions, monitor blood pressure along with other vital signs. They will also carry out an ECG. If they suspect the patient is suffering a heart attack, they should transfer them promptly to hospital for urgent treatment although it is our experience that patients are not necessarily being told about the urgency of treatment as a result of a possible heart attack and remain in the home setting rather than attending hospital feeling reassured that their symptoms are not a serious concern.

Long wait times at A&E facilities

The problem does not end with the attendance by paramedics. When patients arrive at Accident & Emergency (“A&E”) departments they are not necessarily being seen promptly. The national target for patients being seen in A&E is 4 hours and yet data from March 2023 shows that on average 29% of patients are waiting longer than this target. Patients are initially triaged in A&E and designated a category as to their presenting symptoms. If the triage process does not pick up on the concerning symptoms, then patients risk being left to wait for many hours without receiving lifesaving treatment.

How can we support you after negligent medical care with heart attack symptoms?

Here at Freeths we have been approached by a number of patients and family members to discuss opportunities missed. We have spoken with families where ambulance staff have suggested that chest pain was muscle strain or indigestion and therefore nothing to be concerned about. As such patients have remained confident that they can stay at home with no need to attend the hospital. In these cases, patients have, within a few hours, gone on to suffer with heart attacks. We have also spoken with patients who have been transferred to hospital with a suspected heart attack and yet have been left to sit in the A&E Department for a number of hours before receiving treatment which may have impacted their treatment and recovery.

Karen Reynolds, Partner within our Clinical Negligence Department at Freeths, commented:

"I have acted for clients in cases where there has been a failure to appropriately diagnose and manage cardiac conditions and unfortunately this had led to unnecessary injury and death. More recently I have been approached by people who have been impacted by medical practitioners who have dismissed significant cardiac symptoms or the medical practitioners have failed to highlight the urgency of medical treatment. Where these patients have not been treated in a timely fashion this has caused significant worsening of the damage to the heart and in one case it has sadly led to the loss of life. It is important that anyone who has cardiac symptoms receives appropriate care regardless of other pressures as this is a life-threatening condition."

What exactly is a heart attack?

Heart attack symptoms can vary but symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort that suddenly occurs and doesn’t go away. It may feel like pressure, squeezing or having a heaviness in your chest. It can feel like indigestion or a burning sensation.
  • Pain that may spread to your left or right arm or may spread to your neck, jaw, back or stomach.
  • Feeling sick, sweaty, light headed or short of breath.
  • A sudden feeling of anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack.
  • Excessive coughing or wheezing due to a build up of fluid in the lungs.

Heart attack symptoms can persist over days, or they can come on suddenly and unexpectedly. Pain levels can also vary from person to person with some feeling severe pain to those who simply feel uncomfortable.

It is important that anyone with chest pain calls an ambulance immediately, because every minute of delay increases the risk of dying or experiencing serious complications from a heart attack.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one attended a healthcare professional to discuss heart attack symptoms and feel let down by the treatment received, please contact a member of our national Clinical Negligence Team for a free, confidential discussion:

Karen Reynolds, Partner on 0345 272 5677 or email

Jane Williams, Partner on 0345 272 5724 or email

Carolyn Lowe, Partner on 0186 578 1019 or email

To learn more

The British Heart Foundation provide information regarding heart conditions and risk factors associated therewith. See their website at

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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