Fewer deaths but heart disease ‘still biggest killer’
FEWER people are dying prematurely from heart disease in Wales but it remains the country’s “single biggest killer”, a new report has revealed.
Cardiovascular (heart and circulatory) disease causes more than a quarter (27%) of all deaths in Wales each year – an average of 25 each day.
Across the country there are an estimated 375,000 people currently living with a heart-related condition – some 4% of the population.
Smoking, high blood pressure, being overweight and drinking too much alcohol all significantly increase a person’s chance of heart disease.
But according to a new Welsh Government report, since 2009 there has been a 20% reduction in deaths from coronary heart disease before the age of 75, while over the last 20 years there has been a 68% drop in the same age range.
Similarly, the number of people dying from a heart attack has fallen by 134 over the last five years to 1,478, and the number of patients dying from heart failure has reduced by nearly 40%.
The report also noted a steady reduction in the number of people dying from cardiovascular disease, with 1,000 fewer people a year dying compared to five years ago.
In 2010 more than 10,000 people died from cardiovascular disease, and by 2015 this had fallen to just over 9,000.
The reduction has been attributed to a number of factors, including improved detection of heart disease among GPs, the ban on smoking in public places and better NHS treatments.
Health Secretary Vaughan Gething said: “Heart disease is a major killer in Wales, particularly affecting our poorer communities, with one in seven men and nearly one in 10 women dying from the disease.
“The report shows the Welsh NHS has made continued progress in improving the care of patients with heart disease.
“We’ve seen a steady decline in the rate of people dying from all cardiovascular disease, thanks to advances in the field of medicine and improvements in lifestyle behaviours which reduce the risk of developing or dying from cardiovascular disease.
“But the biggest reduction has been in the rate of people under the age of 75 dying early from coronary heart disease, with a 68% reduction over the last 20 years.
“But we’re determined to improve this further.
“One avoidable death is one too many – we know there’s more to do in treating and preventing heart disease.”
While progress is being made, Wales is still lagging behind England and Northern Ireland when it comes to death rates from cardiovascular disease in people below the age of 75.
The highest death rates from the condition in Wales were found in Merthyr Tydfil (103.8 per 100,000 people) and Blaenau Gwent (100.5 per 100,000 people).
But the annual progress report from the chair of the Heart Conditions Implementation Group describes “excellent examples” of improving services throughout Wales despite dealing with complex and increasing demand.
Health boards are being tasked with diagnosing, assessing and, where appropriate, treating heart patients in their communities in a bid to free up hospital beds.
At present 75,000 “bed days” are taken up every year in Welsh hospitals by cardiovascular disease patients.
And the report found that more people are undertaking cardiac rehabilitation which offers guidance on diet, exercise and lifestyle choices.
In turn, it helps patients manage their condition and reduce the risk of repeat attacks and hospital readmissions.
Commenting on the report, head of the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Cymru Adam Fletcher said: “It is encouraging to see progress in tackling cardiovascular disease in Wales, with fewer people under the age of 75 dying as a result of this devastating set of diseases, and more people being referred for cardiac rehabilitation.
“However, we cannot be complacent.
“This report also shows that many patients in Wales still aren’t being diagnosed quickly enough, and are therefore missing out on the healthcare that they urgently need.
“Survival rates from out of hospital cardiac arrest also remain stubbornly low.
“BHF Cymru is committed to working with the Welsh Government and health boards in Wales to tackle these issues.
“Through our vital research, our life-saving CPR training, and our cascade testing programme to identify people with familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) which causes heart attacks, we will further improve the lives of people in Wales.”
Being overweight, smoking, high blood pressure and drinking too much alcohol all significantly increase a person’s chance of heart disease