Heart and Circulatory Diseases: Premature Deaths

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:35 pm on 22 February 2024.

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Photo of Amy Callaghan Amy Callaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 4:35, 22 February 2024

I congratulate Dean Russell on securing this debate on such an important and prevalent issue. He and I have a shared interest in health inequalities, largely due to our personal experiences. He and I joined the House at the same time. I remember sitting in this very Chamber for his maiden speech, in which he quoted Sir Elton John’s song “I’m Still Standing.” I am absolutely delighted that we are both still standing. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Just a few short months after my hon. Friend’s maiden speech—I will call him my hon. Friend— I was in rehab recovering from a stroke. “I’m Still Standing” was one of the songs that we ironically listened to while doing physio—a dark sense of humour can be a powerful tool in the face of adversity, but of course we need to equip people with more than just a sense of humour to get through these very difficult conditions.

This issue is one that my party and I are deeply concerned about, with nearly three in 10 Scots dying from heart and circulatory diseases, equating to about 50 people per day or 1,500 people per month. Preventing those deaths, and in particular premature deaths, is something that the Scottish Government are committed to. The hon. Member for Watford outlined the signs and symptoms of many heart and circulatory conditions. I commend him for shining a light on them. We cannot overestimate the impact that a debate like this will have. Support for the mind after a health trauma is necessary, as he also outlined. After my stroke, I did not realise that I needed help for my mental health until I reached a crisis point. Getting help was the best thing that I could have done for myself. That support needs to be there for everyone.

As we have heard, there are clear risk factors for developing cardiovascular diseases centring around people’s lifestyles. We can call them lifestyle choices, but the choices are often heavily influenced by inequality and poverty. We know that people in poverty have poorer health outcomes, and improving people’s ability to make healthier choices on diet, smoking and alcohol consumption are essential to change that. We know that sadly the prevalence rates for circulatory and cardiovascular diseases are significantly higher in the most deprived areas. We also know that poverty rates are higher for some minority ethnic groups, and therefore they are often disproportionally vulnerable to health inequalities.

That is why improving health and reducing health inequalities across Scotland are clear priorities for the Scottish Government, especially in the face of UK Government austerity measures. The British Heart Foundation says that there has been

“a lack of meaningful action” from the British Government

“over the last 10 years to address many of the causes of heart disease and stroke, such as stubbornly high obesity rates”.

Obesity and unhealthy lifestyle choices are intrinsically linked to poverty. That is why the SNP’s action to mitigate the effects of this Tory Government’s cost of living crisis are so important to today’s debate.

Recent analysis from the British Heart Foundation shows that the number of people dying before the age of 75 in England from heart and circulatory diseases has risen to the highest level in over a decade. We know that 700,000 people in Scotland are living with circulatory diseases. We do not know how much that is affected by covid-19 or other factors, but it is clear that an increasingly unhealthy population plays a key role in these worrying statistics. This is why the SNP’s focus on tackling these inequalities and tackling poverty is such an important and proactive step in reducing these premature deaths.

The Scottish Government’s focus and commitment to tackling poverty and other risk factors relating to cardiovascular disease are despite this Tory Government’s austerity measures. The British Government’s austerity policies are harming the economies across these isles, driving more people into poverty and making our health outcomes worse. Health inequalities are rampant the length and breadth of these isles. I stand here as proof of that. I had cancer as a teenager and had a stroke in my mid-20s—an example of the health inequalities prevalent in the west of Scotland.

Economic austerity is to blame for the slowing progress in health outcomes over the past decade. The British Government would do well to cast their eyes up to Scotland and consider a focus on our wellbeing economy, with people at its heart, as we do. Funding—or, in this case, the lack of it—is a political choice. The UK has considerable wealth, so it is shameful that so many people are in poverty and that their health is suffering as a result. The levels of universal credit have been too low for too long. The SNP and the Scottish Government continue to call on the UK Government to introduce an essentials guarantee to ensure that social security benefits adequately cover the cost of essential goods and properly support our most vulnerable people. The Scottish Government have gone to great lengths to increase income for Scots by promoting fair work and improving the value of social security through bold measures such as the Scottish child payment and the real living wage.

I know that we are short of time, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will bring my remarks to a conclusion. I urge the Government, and whomever forms the next Government, to consider taking the Scottish Government’s approach to tackling health inequalities by reducing poverty and guaranteeing that people have the resources to make healthy lifestyle choices. It is abundantly clear that while Scotland is tied to this place, Westminster and the British Government hold the purse strings, and any action that the Scottish Government take can be outdone by austerity measures in this place. Only with the full powers of independence will we truly be able to tackle health inequalities in Scotland and reduce the number of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease.