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by Jonathan Roden, BHF Scotland
16 April 2021
Associate feature: Improving heart disease outcomes through data

Data tiles - Image credit: justgrimes/CC BY-SA 2.0

Associate feature: Improving heart disease outcomes through data

One of the many things that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us is the importance of detailed data, to help make decisions around how we run our health system.

The work undertaken by Public Health Scotland in the last year has shown us how possible it is to gather and link health data at both a national and local level.

It is important, as we emerge from the pandemic, to build on what we have learned and replicate it across the NHS.   

Currently, the data that is routinely collected in heart disease services is not processed in a way that easily supports the NHS to identify and address issues in how these services are running.

This issue also impacts the ability of the NHS to learn from successes.

It is important that the Scottish Government supports the NHS to realise effective gathering and processing of data as a tool to support improvement in our heart disease services and enable healthcare professionals to support improvements in patient outcomes.

At the beginning of this year, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland launched its strategy and vision for the future of heart disease services in Scotland, from prevention through to care.

Our strategy, developed alongside the clinical community, sets out a vision for a national heart disease intelligence platform.

Similar to a platform established in cancer care, it would allow for the linkage of data from across Scotland and subsequent work to improve heart disease services.

It would also allow researchers to utilise data to uncover improved strategies for prevention, innovative new therapies and medical breakthroughs that will ultimately improve the lives of people affected by heart and circulatory diseases.

It is an area that is a key focus for the BHF. For example, the BHF Data Science Centre was established in 2019 and aims to deliver the data and data science needed to address some of the most pressing challenges in heart and circulatory health research.

The centre is led by Professor Cathie Sudlow from the University of Edinburgh and has been instrumental in work to understand the links between heart and circulatory disease and COVID-19.

Because of all of this, data is perhaps the key tool we have to continue the progress we have made in tackling heart and circulatory diseases.

It is crucial that we now invest in health data to ensure that its potential for improving outcomes is realised.

The Scottish Government’s new Heart Disease Action Plan, launched in March, contains encouraging commitments to improve the use of data for heart disease.

This new plan provides an opportunity to take steps to revolutionise how data is used in Scotland.

However, this plan was launched with only £2 million in initial funding.

This is compared to commitments of £117 million on a new cancer strategy and £42 million on a strategy targeting type 2 diabetes.

If the ambition to unlock health data is to be achieved, the next Scottish Government must prioritise heart disease and commit to provide significant funding to support the ambitious commitments within the new Heart Disease Action Plan.

As we approach the Holyrood election in May, BHF Scotland wants to see all political parties commit to backing the new national heart disease strategy with the resources needed to realise the potential of data to improve the diagnosis, treatment and care of heart and circulatory diseases.

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