Heart and Circulatory Diseases: Premature Deaths

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:29 pm on 22 February 2024.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 4:29, 22 February 2024

I commend Dean Russell for setting the scene today. We have spoken many times on this issue. It is a real pleasure to see him back to health and strength, and working very effectively in this House.

The rates of premature death from heart and circulatory diseases do not make for easy reading. The British Heart Foundation has been clear about how stark the situation is. As the DUP’s health spokesperson, I try to involve myself in all health matters—whether they be in ministerial questions or in debates—in this Chamber or in Westminster Hall, because that is part of my duty.

The number of people dying before the age of 75 from heart and circulatory diseases has risen to the highest level in more than a decade. Waiting lists for heart operations and other heart procedures are nearly 100,000 higher than they were a year ago. Those figures are stark and worrying.

I am very pleased to see the Minister in her place. We all have great respect for her. Although we do not want to burden her with questions, we do need to ask ourselves why these figures are so high and what is being done to reduce them. Worryingly, there are more people over the age of 75 waiting over a year for treatment—the rate is 140 times higher than before the pandemic began.

Latest figures show that, in 2022, more than 39,000 people in England died prematurely of cardiovascular conditions, including heart attacks, coronary heart disease and stroke—an average of some 750 people each week. Again, worryingly, that is the highest total since 2008. What is being done to address those issues?

This backwards trend—because that is what it is—has been broadly mirrored in age-standardised premature death rates, which account for changes and differences in population sizes and demographics. Before 2012, the number and rate of deaths from these conditions under the age of 75 were falling, in part thanks to decades of medical and scientific breakthroughs.

But after nearly a decade of slowing progress, recent statistics show that the rate of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease has now increased in England for three years back to back. This is the first time that there has been a clear reversal in the trend for almost 60 years. Again, the question must be: what has brought that about and what has been done to stop it.

The British Heart Foundation has said:

“The reasons for the rise are multiple and complex. While increasing pressure on the NHS and the covid-19 pandemic have likely contributed in recent years, the warning signs have been present for over a decade.”

If those signs have been present for over a decade, the question we must all ask is: what steps have been taken to slow the trend that has been there for some time.

I know that there will be many in this Chamber with opinions as to the cause. I do not hold a medical degree. I am a very simple person, but I do have an interest in health and I do ask the questions. The fact is that the sharp rise needs to be better managed. I can quickly give some examples of what we are doing back home in Northern Ireland. We have a developing plan with the Irish Football Association that includes more defibrillators and CPR training, which is really important. Many people who are fit and healthy—the hon. Member for Watford referred to this—have had heart attacks on the football pitch. Those are things that we need to address. May I commend the Chest, Heart and Stroke charity back home for all that it does?

This month in Northern Ireland, 340 people will die from heart or circulatory disease, around 90 of whom will be younger than 75 years of age. Some 225,000 people are living with a heart or circulatory disease, 320 hospital admissions will be due to a heart attack, 130 people will die from coronary heart disease, and 13 babies will be diagnosed with a heart defect this year. Those are the figures for Northern Ireland. The statistics are shocking, especially given the small size of Northern Ireland. There are an estimated 225,000 people living with heart and circulatory diseases in Northern Ireland. An ageing and growing population and improved survival rates from heart and circulatory events could see these numbers rise still further. It is clear that this really is a ticking timebomb and therefore we do seek some help from the Minister here.

I can see the Minister formulating her response. Both she and I are glad to see that the Northern Ireland Assembly is up and running. As health is a devolved matter, may I ask her in a genuine fashion, as I always do, whether she can indicate what discussions will take place with the Department of Health in Northern Ireland.

We in Northern Ireland are in the situation in which every region of the UK finds itself: there is not enough funding, not enough staff, and not enough support. Across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we need to address the growing problem with solutions, which can only come about with reasonably paid staff and a better system. Let us exchange our thoughts and ideas, and move forward together towards a system where we can help each other. An overhaul of the system is needed, and we look to the Minister for a plan of action, beginning here in this place and extending through the NHS and across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

You told me to finish within a certain time, Madam Deputy Speaker; I have just done it.