Heart and Circulatory Diseases: Premature Deaths

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 4:40 pm ar 22 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Shadow Minister (Health) 4:40, 22 Chwefror 2024

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate and pay tribute to Dean Russell for securing it. I think we all agree that he made an excellent and heartfelt speech not just about his own experience, but about the effect on his family and his team. He thanked the British Heart Foundation, and I agree that the resources of such organisations are well received at such times, which can often be very lonely. We wish him and his family the best of health going forward.

My right hon. Friend Mark Tami, who is no longer in his place, spoke about his experience as a family member of a young person who has suffered a heart condition, and the SNP spokesperson, Amy Callaghan, highlighted her own experience. Cardio- vascular disease affects not only us, but our families too.

As has been said, every week in 2022 an average of 750 people died prematurely of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes. Every premature death is of course a tragedy, and our thoughts are with all affected families. NHS England has reported that cardiovascular disease is responsible for one in four premature deaths in the UK. As we have heard, the rate of premature deaths has risen for the past three years consecutively—that is something that we all wish to understand. Many of my constituents, and people across the country, are worried about the state of heart and circulatory disease services. Despite the best efforts of staff, there is a significant backlog in treatment, the number of people on waiting lists for cardiology services is rising, with a huge 189% increase in the past 10 years.

According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, waiting times for cardiology treatment have risen even more sharply than for elective waiting lists as a whole. That is deeply concerning, because long waits mean poorer outcomes for patients, often with devastating results. An estimated 7.6 million in the UK are currently living with heart or circulatory disease. It is vital that every one of those people receives effective and timely diagnosis, referral and treatment, yet under this Government the NHS has lurched from crisis to crisis, and far too many patients are not receiving that timely care.

Labour has an ambitious 10-year plan of reform and modernisation to speed up treatment, with 2 million more appointments a year. We want to return to the constitutional waiting-time targets within a Parliament. As our mission sets out, it is vital to restore the NHS as a world-leading health system—something that we have lost under this Government. The Government have promised to eradicate waits of over a year for elective care by 2025. It would be good if the Minister indicated whether they are on track to do just that.

Labour has a mission to reduce deaths from heart attacks and strokes by a quarter within 10 years, so that fewer lives are lost to the biggest killers. Under our “Fit for the Future” fund, we would double the number of scanners—speeding up heart and circulatory disease diagnosis—and ensure that patients receive the timely treatment that is so vital for managing those conditions. We would also incentivise continuity of care in general practice, which would improve care in our communities for people living with heart and circulatory disease. It would be helpful if the Minister explained why, in the past 14 years of Conservative Government, we have seen such paltry ambition on cardiovascular care and a decline in cardiovascular health. The Minister is probably going to talk about the major conditions strategy, which was announced 13 years into the Conservative party’s time in power, but when can we expect the full strategy to be published, and will it explore the reasons for the backward trend in cardiovascular disease that we are currently seeing? I agree with other hon. Members: we all need to understand the reasons for that.

One of the most concerning aspects of cardiovascular disease in this country is that many of its drivers are higher in areas of greater deprivation and, as we have heard, for black and minority ethnic groups. That is exacerbating health inequalities; we have heard from the SNP spokesman, Jim Shannon about the levels in their communities. In 2022, those in the most deprived 10% of the population in England were more than twice as likely to die prematurely from circulatory diseases than those in the least deprived 10% of the population, something I see very much in my own constituency of Bristol South. That is utterly unacceptable across the United Kingdom in the 21st century, particularly given that cardiovascular disease is largely preventable.

Tackling the issues that impact cardiovascular health, from obesity to high blood pressure or smoking, is vital —not only to tackle CVD, but to improve population health overall. That is why we have to tackle social inequalities that influence health and focus more on prevention, improving capacity in local public health teams that do so much vital work to improve the health of their communities. Innovation will also be vital to centre prevention in our health service, and I would welcome an update from the Minister about the NHS digital health check trial in Cornwall. Given that results from that trial will inform the roll-out this spring, can the Minister indicate any challenges apparent in the trial? When can we expect the results to be published?

As we have heard, prevention starts long before the age of 40, when that health check takes place. That is why Labour will introduce a child health action plan that will put prevention at the top of the agenda, ensuring that the next generation can live healthier lives. There are also widespread concerns that the restructuring of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities could have a detrimental impact on health inequalities. It would be good to hear a reassurance from the Minister about how those concerns about health inequalities will be prioritised in the event of changes to that body.

Finally, research is crucial to preventing further premature deaths. That is why Labour’s regulatory innovation office would make Britain the best place in the world to innovate by speeding up decisions and providing a clear direction based on our modern industrial strategy, alongside a plan to make it easier for more patients to participate in clinical trials. That will deliver better treatment to patients. We owe that to all those families who have lost a loved one to premature death, as well as those who—we are pleased to see—are surviving and living well with this disease. We must improve outcomes; I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments on the major conditions strategy, but that strategy must be delivered in tandem with a plan to provide the NHS with the staff, technology and resources it needs to bring down waiting lists and improve patient care. I am pleased that a future Labour Government has a plan to do just that.