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Concern over heart disease 'divide'

Published 03/06/2015

Cardiovascular disease affects more people in the north of England and Scotland
Cardiovascular disease affects more people in the north of England and Scotland

A North-South divide in the number of people dying from cardiovascular disease is a "stain on the UK's public health record", a leading expert has said.

Dr Adam Timmis made the comments as a paper was published showing that cancer has overtaken cardiovascular disease as the biggest killer of men in the UK for the first time since the middle of the 20th century.

Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, is still the most common cause of death among women and the leading cause worldwide, the research published online in the journal Heart found.

England had the lowest prevalence of all cardiovascular conditions out of the four UK countries and Scotland the highest, with the next greatest rates in the North of England.

When broken down further, Glasgow had the highest death rate from cardiovascular disease, followed by Hyndburn in Lancashire and Blaenau Gwent in South Wales, with the Isles of Scilly at the opposite end of the league with the lowest.

The analysis, led by the University of Oxford, found cancer overtook cardiovascular disease as the primary cause of death in the UK in 2012 - but when broken down between men and women, cardiovascular disease remained the biggest killer, accounting for 28% of deaths compared to 27% from cancer.

The proportion of deaths attributable to cancer in men was 29% while cardiovascular disease accounted for 28%.

Cardiovascular disease was behind a total of nearly 42,000 premature deaths (classed as deaths before the age of 75) in 2012.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr Timmis - deputy director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit at Barts Health NHS Trust - said the local authorities with the highest death rates for cardiovascular disease were nearly all in the North of England and Scotland.

He added: "UK socio-economic gradients in disease incidence and mortality remain as steep now as they have ever been and until they are resolved the regional differences highlighted in the linked report will probably persist."

Researchers said the NHS in England spent around £6.8 billion on cardiovascular disease in 2012/13, the majority of which was spent on secondary care.

The equivalent cost in Wales was £442 million, £393 million in Northern Ireland, and more than £750 million in Scotland.

Cardiovascular disease also includes coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, circulatory system disease, and other vascular/arterial disease.

Simon Gillespie, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation - which funded the report, said: "The fact that death rates from cardiovascular disease have fallen is testament to our work over the last 50 years - improving prevention, diagnosis and treatment through research.

"But the battle is not won. Our successes mean that we are now faced with new challenges like managing the increasing number of survivors of heart attack and stroke.

"Around 70% of people now survive a heart attack but better survival rates have left over half a million people with heart failure - a debilitating condition that can leave someone unable to climb stairs or even wash themselves. This is our next challenge.

"Just as we transformed the care and prognosis after a heart attack with research, we are leading the way in heart failure and we will find a way to mend broken hearts. But we urgently need more donations to fund further research into this."

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