Heart and Circulatory Diseases: Premature Deaths

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:53 pm on 22 February 2024.

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Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art 3:53, 22 February 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered premature deaths from heart and circulatory diseases.

I start with something I never thought that I would stand here discussing. As I shared in Prime Minister’s questions a few weeks ago, at 47 I had a heart attack. It happened back in August last year, but I must admit that it took several months for me to feel comfortable talking about it more publicly—although I knew that I was on the path to full recovery, and I feel that I am now recovered. As I said in Prime Minister’s questions, I feel a bit thinner for it—that is the physical response. One thing that came through, beyond the fantastic support of the NHS, to which I will refer later, friends and family and my team, was the support of the British Heart Foundation. Its online resources, support and guidance were invaluable in helping me when I was on my own, to find a way through this, get on the path to recovery and understand the stories of others.

I hope the debate will not just share my story—this is not about me—but raise awareness of the early signs and symptoms and some areas of prevention, as well as raising with the Minister, on behalf of others who were perhaps not as fortunate as I was, some of the challenges to early identification of risks. I will aim to cover as much as I can, but I know that others will want to speak, so I will not hog the short time we have. I hope that even one person might come away from watching this debate— I am sure there are millions at home following this debate this afternoon—able to spot a sign for themselves or for a family member or friend, which might save or change their lives.

To start, let us talk about the symptoms. I appreciate that symptoms differ slightly for everybody, and the British Heart Foundation has excellent examples and guidance for what they might be. For me, it started with feeling a sort of numbness and tingling sensation in my left arm and an increasing tightness in my chest, which, as it grew, started to filter to the back of my body. It was not immediate. One often thinks of a heart attack as a cardiac arrest, which is where the heart literally stops and one needs a defibrillator or CPR, but a heart attack can feel more like a slow process that happens quite quickly, if that makes sense.

Even though many years ago, I worked on campaigns to talk about these symptoms with the British Heart Foundation as a client of mine, and even though I knew instinctively what was happening to me, as I started to get those symptoms, even I thought, “I don’t want to phone 999. I don’t want to waste their time.” I ended up calling 111, expecting to hear, “Don’t be silly; take a pill. Go to your GP tomorrow and they’ll get you sorted out.” But they did not say that. The message I had back immediately was that an ambulance was on its way, at which point, I thought, “This might be a bit serious”—but even then I was still in a little denial about the situation.

I will not tell the full story, but I was transferred very quickly to Watford General Hospital, where I was seen and given exemplary care. The East of England Ambulance Service was absolutely incredible with its speed and the compassion and support I was given—the same was true at Watford General, a hospital I love dearly. I was then transferred to Harefield Hospital, where I was again seen very quickly. During that process, I realised the enormity of the situation I was in and the potential that I could lose my life, although I was then unlikely to because I was in the right place at the right time.