The number of people dying from heart disease has fallen by more than a third in the past ten years thanks to better treatment, better detection and a decline in smoking.
The dramatic reduction in deaths from coronary heart disease (CHD) is underlined by data released today by the Government. The figures show a 35.9 per cent drop in heart disease deaths for those under 75 since 1996.
The figures suggest that the NHS is on course to meet the target of at least a 40 per cent reduction by 2010.
A reduction in smoking as well as increased use of drugs such as cholesterol-busting statins have had a significant impact on survival rates for the disease.
Heart disease is estimated to be Britain’s biggest killer, with about 270,000 heart attacks occurring each year. But the Government report, Shaping the Future, claims that twice as many people now receive appropriate drugs within half an hour of arriving at hospital, compared with figures in 2000.
The report says that an estimated 9,700 lives were saved through use of statins in 2005 — up from 2,900 in 2000. It also claims that no patients have waited more than three months for heart surgery in the past year.
Tony Blair is expected to visit a hospital in London to witness a heart operation today to coincide with the publication of the figures.
The mortality rate in England from CHD remains higher than most Western European countries, a fact that is blamed on our diet and lifestyle. With 207 men and 70 women under 75 dying per 100,000 of the population, according to recent figures, it is almost three times as high as France, which has the lowest rate. But the decline in mortality is much faster in England, where male and female deaths decreased by 38 per cent and 32 per cent respectively. France and Germany showed a much slower decline over the same period.
When heart disease first emerged in the late 19th century, it was considered a disease of the upper classes, who enjoyed a richer diet, a more sedentary lifestyle and started smoking sooner. The problem became more widespread after the First World War, peaking in the 1970s.
Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, said that the latest report showed the “fantastic achievements the NHS has made since 2000, not only in treating CHD patients but also in helping to prevent it, by working to reduce factors like smoking, which contribute to the disease. “We are one of the highest-spending countries in Europe for cardiovascular diseases, with one of the fastest improving services.”
People with mental health problems and learning difficulties, often seen as vulnerable groups, were included in the figures.
Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said of the report: “If this were a midterm report, I think our summary would be — some terrific achievements so far, but let’s keep going until the job is done.
“The National Service Framework for CHD demonstrates that if you put enough effort and money into affecting change, you can get real results. But we cannot afford to take our foot off the pedal, as there’s a huge burden of disease out there that still needs to be tackled.”
He said that the National Framework Service had significantly improved heart disease care in England. “But despite the continued fall in premature deaths from heart attacks, coronary heart disease remains the UK’s single biggest killer. And the same efforts that have gone into achieving improvements in heart attack care now need to be aimed at all areas of cardiovascular diseases.
“We need to improve care for the survivors — such as providing equal access to cardiac rehabilitation programmes and, for end-stage heart-failure patients, ensuring palliative care is available to all who need it. The BHF will continue to press for all these areas to receive the attention and investment from Government that they need.”