Associate feature: We need to have a national conversation about heart disease
There have been great advances in reducing death rates from heart disease in Scotland. The decades since the British Heart Foundation (BHF) was set up in 1961 have seen a transformation in diagnosis, treatment and care. Back then, more than seven in ten heart attacks in this country were fatal. Today, at least seven in ten people survive.
While this is hugely positive, one consequence is that the number of people living with heart conditions is greater than ever. People are living longer with heart disease and often have more than one health condition. Health inequalities also persist in Scotland – rates of heart and circulatory diseases in our most deprived areas are significantly higher than in the least deprived.
These are significant challenges, yet the Scottish Government’s plans to tackle heart disease in Scotland haven’t been updated since 2014. There has been a lot of change in the health care system since then, not least this year as we consider the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
That’s why BHF Scotland believes new national priorities for addressing heart disease are needed. We want to have a national conversation about heart disease – and we’ve been reaching out to people living with heart disease and health care professionals with an interest in this vital area. We’ve been learning about what they think is important to improve care for people with, or at risk of, heart disease in Scotland.
We have an opportunity to identify new priorities to ensure that people with, and at risk of, heart disease across Scotland receive the best possible care today and in the future. We are consulting on the identified priorities below at the moment to check that they are in line with what the wider community thinks is important.
Over the past year, BHF Scotland has spoken with health care professionals and people living with heart disease, or with conditions putting them at increased risk of heart and circulatory diseases, to identify three key priorities.
The first of these is tackling the risk factors for heart and circulatory diseases. Millions of people in Scotland are living with conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, but it’s likely that many have not been diagnosed, while others are not receiving optimal treatment. Helping people to find out if they have these conditions, and supporting them to manage them, could reduce their risk of developing heart disease.
Secondly, we need to ensure that everyone with heart disease has access to timely diagnosis, treatment and care, no matter what condition they have or where they live. This is about addressing some of the barriers limiting this at the moment, including a focus on some key workforce issues, a need to make sure that primary and secondary care work seamlessly together to support people with heart disease and helping people to live well with their condition. This includes the emotional and psychological support that so many people with heart disease tell us they would benefit from. Where necessary, it also includes palliative care for people approaching the end of their life, which can help them to have a better quality of life.
Our third priority centres on the effective use of data to improve services for people with heart disease. Lots of data are currently held within the health care system but information is not always collected or used in the same way across different areas. We think this must be improved.
Better collection and linking together of anonymised data, and making sure that all areas collect data in the same way, could help health professionals to improve ways of measuring, learning and improving care and outcomes for people with heart disease.
These priorities are outlined in more detail in our consultation document and are linked to a series of recommendations for the Scottish Government, offering practical and achievable solutions to the issues raised. BHF Scotland would like to see a commitment to delivering on these priorities at the next election. By working together to achieve what we have outlined, we can all contribute to a national heart disease plan that will help us to finally beat heartbreak for Scotland. Our consultation is available at bhf.org.uk/ScotHeartPlan where responses should be submitted by 4 September 2020. All responses will feed into the development of our final document, which is due to be presented to the Scottish Government in February 2021.
Kylie Barclay is Policy and Public Affairs Manager at BHF Scotland
This piece was sponsored by BHF Scotland