Sadiq Khan did not have a ‘minor cardiac arrest’ at climate conference

30 May 2023
What was claimed

Sadiq Khan suffered a cardiac arrest at COP26 in 2021.

Our verdict

His book says he had a suspected heart attack—these are very different conditions.

Last week Mayor of London Sadiq Khan released his new book, Breathe: Tackling the climate emergency. It contains a description of a health incident at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021.

But some of the reporting on this got the details wrong in important ways, with two outlets saying he had a “minor cardiac arrest” when in fact he may have had a heart attack. After Full Fact contacted the news sites in question, the articles were corrected.

Accurate reporting of health conditions and policy is important to improve public understanding. We have written about media errors on similar topics before.

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Heart attack or cardiac arrest?

A heart attack is a blockage in the supply of blood to the muscles of the heart, often caused by a clot in one or more arteries. Often the heart attack can be treated with medications or procedures.

A cardiac arrest is when the heart stops beating, blood is not pumped around the body and the person becomes unconscious and unable to breathe properly. Patients must be given CPR or they will die within minutes.

Both are medical emergencies and you should call 999 immediately if you suspect someone is having either, but a cardiac arrest is significantly more serious. A heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest if it goes untreated.

Errors in the reports

Mayor Khan’s press office confirmed to Full Fact that there is no mention of cardiac arrest in the book. They told us that a definite diagnosis was not reached after he fell ill in 2021, but that doctors at the time believed he may have had a heart attack. 

GB News's original story ran with the headline “Sadiq Khan heart attack: London Mayor was left 'barely conscious' after cardiac arrest”, repeating this by saying “he had a minor cardiac arrest” in the piece.

After we contacted them about the error, GB News removed the term “cardiac arrest” from their article, but have not made any changes to reflect the uncertainty of the event. “Cardiac arrest” remains in the URL of the story.

The National referred to a “heart attack” in their headline, but they also said “he had a minor cardiac arrest while on stage” at the climate conference.

After we pointed out the error, the National told Full Fact they had updated their article to remove the term “cardiac arrest”, and to make it clear that the diagnosis was not confirmed, with the headline now saying “suspected heart attack”.

Featured image courtesy of the Scottish Government

We took a stand for good information.

As detailed in our fact check, GB News and The National amended their articles.

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