How the NHS Long Term Plan can save lives being lost to heart and circulatory diseases

Woman having her blood pressure taken by a doctor

Steve Brine, Minister for Public Health and Primary care, explains why heart and circulatory diseases are the single biggest area where the NHS Long Term Plan can save lives over the next 10 years.

This article was originally published on 13 March 2019, when Steve Brine MP was Minister for Public Health and Primary Care. He resigned from the position on 25 March 2019, over the Brexit process.

Every family has a story of a loved one lost to heart disease.

In England one person dies every four minutes from heart and circulatory diseases. Each one of them represents a family separated too soon.

But, like the British Heart Foundation, I passionately believe it doesn’t have to be this way.

That’s why earlier this year, when the NHS Long Term Plan was published, we put an ambition to transform the early identification and treatment of cardiovascular disease at its heart.

Supported by the £33.9 billion cash injection we’ve committed to the NHS over the next five years, we believe we can prevent 150,000 strokes, heart attacks and dementia cases and improve treatment for people who already have cardiovascular disease over the next ten years.  

So how will we do it?  

1. Promoting the importance of 'knowing your numbers' 

Blood pressure test 

Firstly, we want to get more people to ‘know their numbers’. 

Having your cholesterol, blood pressure and weight checked regularly is a really important first defence against heart disease. It can help doctors spot the early warning signs and put in place the treatment and lifestyle changes to help people to stay well.

Having your cholesterol, blood pressure and weight checked regularly is a really important first defence against heart disease

So, we will make sure that millions more people take advantage of the NHS Health Check programme, which will help them understand their risk of developing a cardiovascular disease and how they can reduce the risk, as well as detecting undiagnosed conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

As part of the new GP contract, thousands of new clinical pharmacists and other staff in GP teams will help make sure that as many people as possible are getting the right treatment.

2. Identifying people at the greatest genetic risk

Genetics code

A scientist analysing DNA gel

Secondly, we are going to improve efforts to identify people at greatest genetic risk.

In particular, more people will be able to receive state-of-the-art genetic testing for familial hypercholesterolaemia, an inherited condition which causes early heart attacks and affects at least 150,000 people in England. 

Our aim is to identify at least a quarter of people who have this condition in the next five years – currently, only an estimated 7 per cent have been identified.

3. Ensuring faster diagnosis

Man having a blood test

Thirdly, we will make sure more people with heart failure or heart valve disease get diagnosed sooner, so that we can put in place an earlier treatment plan to stabilise their condition and stop them from deteriorating.

A key part of the Long Term Plan is a long overdue investment in primary and community health services, and that will mean we can start to offer more patients fast access to echocardiography, as well as blood tests in their local GP or community health clinic rather than them being referred onto a hospital.

We need to do better than the current situation where as many as 80 per cent of all cases of heart failure are diagnosed in hospital

We need to do better than the current situation where as many as 80 per cent of all cases of heart failure are diagnosed in hospital, despite 40 per cent of these patients having symptoms that could have triggered an earlier assessment and diagnosis.

And when people are admitted to hospital, for those who would benefit, we are also going to make sure they get input from a specialist heart failure team. There are also more specialist heart failure nurses available to give the specialist care and advice needed.

4. Developing world-leading cardiac rehabilitation support

Man being shown stretch exercises

Fourthly, we want to develop a cardiac rehabilitation offer that is truly world-leading.

I want to make sure more people get the long term support they need to lead as full a life as possible. Our plan is to give thousands more people expert support, so that by 2028 the proportion receiving cardiac rehabilitation will be amongst the best in Europe, with up to 85 per cent of those eligible receiving care.

5. Improving access to defibrillators

CPR dummies

Finally, we need to make sure more communities have life-saving access to defibrillators to improve the first aid response when people suffer a cardiac arrest.

Drawing inspiration from the BHF’s Nation of Lifesavers campaign, and working with other organisations, we will create a national network of community first responders and defibrillators, to help save up to 4,000 lives each year by 2028. 

...we will create a national network of community first responders and defibrillators, to help save up to 4,000 lives each year by 2028

It is equally important that more people know how to spot and respond to a cardiac arrest – so we are committed to introducing CPR training into the curriculum in schools in England by 2020. 

Above all, the theme running through all of this is to make sure there is the advice and support available in the community to help people make the right choices.

That is why the work of the British Heart Foundation, with its network of support throughout the country, will be an integral part of this plan.

There’s a lot to do. But working together – with your support – I am confident we can keep more hearts beating, and more families together, for longer.

CV - Steve Brine MP

Image of Steve Brine

2010 - Elected MP for Winchester and Chandler’s Ford (previously worked as a radio journalist and in consultancy, marketing and publishing)

2013-14 - Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State at Department for Work and Pensions, then Home Office

2015 - Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Health Secretary

2016 - Assistant Government Whip

June 2017 - Appointed Minister for Public Health and Primary Care, covering health protection and improvement, international health policy, cancer and long-term conditions

25 March 2019 - Resigns from the position of Minister for Public Health and Primary Care, over the Brexit process.


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