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Heart disease shows health inequalities still exist

Your article in last Friday's Belfast Telegraph highlights the continuing problem of health inequalities in Northern Ireland (News, July 20).

You note that life-expectancy in Northern Ireland has increased in recent years, but the increase has been greater in wealthy areas - meaning that the gap between poor and rich areas has not narrowed. People from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to die from heart disease prematurely.

Failing to act on health inequalities is a false economy. In 2006, coronary heart disease cost the UK NHS approximately £3.2bn. The total cost to the UK economy was approximately £9bn.

Heart disease is the biggest cause of health inequalities. The British Heart Foundation has shown its commitment to tackling geographical health inequalities by investing £11m in its flagship Hearty Lives programme, which is working in areas where people are at a higher-than-average risk of heart and circulatory disease.

The BHF is working with councils and health care trusts to develop programmes that meet local needs. Three Hearty Lives projects have been established in Cookstown, Carrickfergus and Craigavon. But this initiative will not show sustainable results without significant investment in the NHS in these areas.

Dedicated action is needed at a number of levels to close the heart health-gap between affluent and deprived groups and to make sure people aren't left behind.

STEPHANIE LECKEY

BHF Northern Ireland

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