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Heart and circulatory diseases are among the biggest causes of death worldwide, accounting for around a quarter of all fatalities.
It is a similar picture in the UK, where they are thought to be the cause of around 160,000 deaths annually.
However, new “deeply troubling” figures have shown cardiovascular disease was responsible for around 100,000 excess deaths in England since the start of the pandemic.
The research, by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), found that on average, there were more than 500 additional deaths each week involving cardiovascular disease, since February 2020.
Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for a range of heart and blood vessel conditions including heart attack, coronary heart disease and stroke.
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The charity said there are likely many contributing factors, such as pressure on NHS services caused by COVID-19.
However, the analysis showed there were more excess deaths – a total of 96,540 – involving cardiovascular conditions than any other disease groups.
Using data from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), the BHF found that In the first year of the pandemic, COVID-19 infection drove high numbers of excess deaths involving cardiovascular disease.
But while deaths from COVID-19 have continued to fall year-on-year, the number of deaths involving cardiovascular disease remained high above expected levels.
Doctor Charmaine Griffiths, chief executive of the BHF, said: “It is deeply troubling that so many more people with cardiovascular disease have lost their lives over the last three years.
“My heart goes out to every family who has endured the pain of losing a loved one, all too often in distressing circumstances.
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“For years now, it has been clear that we are firmly in the grip of a heart and stroke care emergency.”
She warned that without Government action this could only get worse.
“If little changes, we could continue to see a sustained rise in death rates from cardiovascular conditions that undoes decades of scientific progress to reduce the number of people who die of a heart attack or stroke,” she said.
“There is no time to waste – Government must take control of this crisis to give heart patients and their loved ones hope of a better and healthier future.
“It can do this by prioritising NHS heart care, better preventing heart disease and stroke, and powering science to unlock future treatments and cures.”
It comes as the latest figures show that the number of people waiting for time-sensitive cardiac care in England was at a record high of nearly 390,000 at the end of April.
And average ambulance response times for heart attacks and strokes have consistently been above 30 minutes since the beginning of 2022, even exceeding 90 minutes in December last year.
This is significantly slower than the target of 18 minutes, though the Government has set a new average target of 30 minutes for 2023/24.
Associate medical director at the BHF and consultant cardiologist, Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, said: “COVID-19 no longer fully explains the significant numbers of excess deaths involving cardiovascular disease.
“Other major factors are likely contributing, including the extreme and unrelenting pressure on the NHS over the last few years.
“Long waits for heart care are dangerous – they put someone at increased risk of avoidable hospital admission, disability due to heart failure and premature death.”
And Professor John Greenwood, president of the British Cardiovascular Society (BCS), added: “The high numbers of excess cardiovascular disease (CVD) deaths published today are worrying, but unfortunately not surprising.
“We know that Covid has caused direct (Covid leading to new CVD), indirect (reduced treatment and prevention of CVD) and long-term effects (CVD and Long Covid).
“The BCS recommends urgent prioritisation of CVD prevention and treatment, as well as an increase in the cardiovascular workforce (primary and secondary care, and multidisciplinary team) to begin tackling the backlog of work and long waiting lists for treatment.”
In response, a government spokesman told the MailOnline: “We are cutting waiting lists, ambulance response times are falling, staff increasing and we are improving access to blood pressure and health checks.
“We know there is more to do which is why we are consulting on a major conditions strategy to tackle CVD.”
To lower your risk of cardiovascular disease the BHF recommends:
- Losing weight if you are overweight
- Maintaining healthy blood pressure
- Lowering cholesterol levels
- Preventing or controlling type 2 diabetes
- Giving up smoking.
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