A campaign group has criticised health chiefs for delaying access to free gym sessions which experts claim are vital for heart attack victims.

Bradford Heart Support Group has described as “nonsense” a change in the rules which means recovering heart attack patients are told to wait a year until exercising at gyms in Bradford.

This is because of shortages of qualified staff to supervise “high risk” pa-tients using gyms under Bradford Encouraging Exer-cise, according to the NHS Bradford and Airedale health trust.

Alan Sykes, 79, the group’s treasurer, who has suffered two heart attacks, said: “I want heart patients to be offered the chance to go to the gym straightaway. It is nonsense to be told patients are not stable enough to take exercise for a year when everyone in the medical profession says otherwise.”

He complained to the PCT because he was told not to use Thornton Recreation Centre’s gym after an attack on New Year’s Eve last year.

But after a major heart attack in 2002, he had been encouraged by Bradford Encouraging Exercise Prog-ramme (BEEP) – a referral programme set up by the PCT – to continue rehabilitation by joining a gym only a couple of months later.

Mr Sykes said: “It seems that these changes have been made to protect staff from any legal challenge rather than the provision of suitable exercise facilities for people who have experienced a heart attack of some kind.”

Fellow heart attack victim Colin Campbell, 66, also had to wait months before BEEP allowed him to enrol at Thornton Recreation Centre as part of his rehabilitation. He had had an attack a year ago on holiday in Hawaii.

Mr Campbell, of Thorn Drive, Queensbury, said: “When you have a heart attack everyone you meet – from the surgeons to the cardio nurses – encourage you to exercise, except BEEP, who are supposed to encourage people to do exercise.

“Why take this bureaucratic attitude which stops people using the gym immediately? It is very frustrating.”

A spokesman for NHS Bradford and Airedale said it was not able to provide suitably qualified staff to run the sessions.

She said: “NHS Bradford and Airedale is planning to undertake a full review of cardiac rehabilitation and lifelong exercise services in partnership with leisure services. We will be consulting with service users and it is expected that the outcome will be available later this month. This may involve changes to services that we currently provide and commission.

“I am sorry for the inconvenience that this situation has caused Mr Sykes. We are in contact with him to make sure he is aware of our plans. We are taking this matter very seriously.”