Wednesday, 28 February 2024
Wednesday, 28 February 2024

New analysis shows disturbing spike in heart disease deaths for under 75s

THE number of people dying before the age of 75 in England from heart and circulatory diseases has risen to the highest level in over a decade, according to a new analysis from the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Latest figures show that in 2022, over 39,000 people in England died prematurely of cardiovascular conditions including heart attacks, coronary heart disease and stroke – an average of 750 people each week. It is the highest annual total since 2008.

The backwards trend has been broadly mirrored in age-standardised premature death rates, which account for changes and differences in population sizes and demographics.

Before 2012, the number and rate of deaths from these conditions under the age of 75 were falling, in part thanks to decades of medical and scientific breakthroughs.

But after nearly a decade of slowing progress, recent statistics show that the rate of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease has now increased in England for three years back-to-back. This is the first time there has been a clear reversal in the trend for almost 60 years.

The BHF says more analysis is needed to understand what is driving the trend. However, the charity points to an increasingly unhealthy population and widening health inequalities in England over the last decade, as well as longstanding and extreme pressure on the NHS and, more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic. 

There has also been a lack of meaningful action from the Government over the last 10 years to address many of the causes of heart disease and stroke, such as stubbornly high obesity rates.

To get back on track to reducing deaths from cardiovascular disease, the charity wants to see urgent action on three fronts: the better prevention of heart disease and stroke, the prioritisation of NHS heart care, and the supercharging of cardiovascular research to unlock groundbreaking new treatments and cures.

Dr Charmaine Griffiths, Chief Executive at the BHF, said:

“These figures paint a heartbreaking picture. For more than half a century, pioneering research and medical advances helped us make huge strides towards reducing heart attack and stroke deaths. But this has been followed by a lost decade of progress in which far too many people have lost loved ones to cardiovascular disease too soon.

“We can stop this heartbreak, but only if politicians unite to address the preventable causes of heart disease, cut long waiting lists for people who need lifesaving heart and stroke care, and help power scientific breakthroughs to unlock revolutionary new treatments and cures. Hesitating to act would be a fatal mistake – cardiovascular disease is one of the country’s biggest killers and our hearts need protection now.”

Since 2020, the premature death rate for cardiovascular disease has risen year-on-year and the latest figures for 2022 show that it has reached 80 in 100,000 in England in 2022 – the highest rate since 2011.

But even before this yearly rise began, there has been a significant slowdown in the rate of improvement since 2012. Between 2012 and 2019, the premature death rate for cardiovascular disease in the UK fell by just 11 per cent, compared to a fall of 33 per cent between 2005 and 2012.

The reasons for the rise are multiple and complex. The BHF says increasing pressure on the NHS and the Covid-19 pandemic have likely contributed in recent years, but the warning signs have been present for over a decade.

Since 2010, the health gap between rich and poor has significantly widened. The most deprived parts of England have been getting sicker, with stalling improvement in healthy life expectancy and increasing rates of some cardiovascular conditions.

At the same time, there hasn’t been enough action to address cardiovascular risk factors over the last decade. Millions of people are living with undiagnosed risk factors, such as high blood pressure, raised cholesterol, and diabetes, and nearly two-thirds of adults in England have a weight classed as overweight or obese. This is storing up huge problems for the future, the charity says.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Medical Director at the BHF and Consultant Cardiologist, said:

“We’re in the grip of the worst heart care crisis in living memory. Every part of the system providing heart care is damaged, from prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, to crucial research that could give us faster and better treatments. This is happening at a time when more people are getting sicker and need the NHS more than ever.

“I find it tragic that we’ve lost hard-won progress to reduce early death from cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, we are still seeing more people than expected die from cardiovascular conditions overall – more than any other disease group. It’s clear to me that urgent intervention is long overdue.”

Last year, the BHF reported that since the start of the pandemic, there have been over 100,000 excess deaths involving cardiovascular conditions in England since February 2020 in an analysis of data from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID).

In January 2023, the Government announced a Major Conditions Strategy to tackle the biggest drivers of ill health and early death in England, including cardiovascular disease. It is due to be published in full later this year. An interim report published by the Department of Health & Social Care last summer made clear the scale and urgency of the rising tide of cardiovascular disease in the UK, but as the data now shows, there has been limited progress made to tackle this major cause of ill health.

Research holds the key to unlocking new ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating heart and circulatory diseases. BHF-funded research has led to lifesaving discoveries – from understanding the causes of heart attacks and how to treat them to artificial intelligence to analyse heart scans, helping doctors to detect heart disease more quickly and accurately than ever.

But with cardiovascular disease still causing around a quarter of all UK deaths, we need to accelerate the pace at which we translate promising science into revolutionary breakthroughs. To ensure research funders like the BHF can continue to make lifesaving discoveries, we need a thriving research and development ecosystem in the UK.  

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