ST GEORGE’S has been named by the Department of Health as the first hospital in the country to meet a crucial waiting time target for heart operations.

Patients should now only have to wait three months for a heart operation at St George’s, one of the country’s leading centres for cardiothoracic surgery.

With waiting times for surgery the lowest they have been for the past five years, the hospital is revelling in the news that it hit the Government’s target in January – two months ahead of schedule.

NHS hospitals specialising in heart surgery have until 31 March to meet the target.

Hospital figures show patients needing a heart bypass operation or an angioplasty – a procedure whereby a balloon on the end of a catheter is inflated inside a blocked artery to restore blood flow to the heart – on average waited two and a half months for surgery this year.

Five years ago, the average wait was five months. Patients who needed a heart bypass may have waited up to half a year for surgery.

Commenting on the figures, cardiologist Dr Charles Pumphrey said:

“Everyone, from consultant to technician to junior nurse, has worked very hard to bring waiting times down for patients and we are delighted to be the first hospital in the country to have met this target.

“It is a considerable achievement and one that has been many months in the planning.”

Waiting times have fallen, says Dr Pumphrey, by investing in new facilities, performing more procedures and by operating on ‘routine’ cases before the hospital was inundated with emergency cases over the winter period.

In 2003, cardiac services moved to the Atkinson Morley Wing, a ?50m development at St George’s Hospital which contains four cardiac operating theatres and five cardiac catheterisation laboratories.

More than 1100 angioplasties and heart bypass operations have been performed so far this year, nearly a third more procedures than five years ago.

Patients who are concerned that meeting the target may have distracted the hospital from improving the quality of its care will take comfort from data recently published on the hospital’s website which shows individual heart surgeons have reduced the number of post-operative deaths in the past two years.

St George’s took the groundbreaking step last month of making mortality rates for individual heart surgeons available to the general public.

The hospital is one of the first trusts in the country to release such data and soon plans to release mortality statistics for every area of surgery.

See the mortality rates for individual heart surgeons operating at St George’s Hospital.