Thursday 11th March 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP) [V]
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I echo the comments just made. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this debate and for the comprehensive exposition with which he started it.

A debate on heart health matters to many of our constituents who live with heart conditions. My father died in 1969, when I was 15 months old, of a heart attack in Hamilton where he had been working, collapsing and dying at Hamilton Cross, leaving my mother widowed with eight children. I looked on helplessly as my stepfather collapsed and died in the hallway of our home with a heart attack in 1985, when I was 17 years old. That is something I will never forget.

Sadly, too many of those who have lived with someone with compromised heart health could recount similar experiences. Sadly, in my family the deaths were caused by lifestyle factors, but it is important to remember that the most important factor in such disease and premature deaths is poverty. Ultimately, it is poverty that kills, whatever may be written on the death certificate. We really need to be mindful of that.

About 1 million people across the UK and 48,000 people in Scotland have been diagnosed with heart failure. There are around 200,000 diagnoses of heart failure every year in the UK, with some evidence to suggest that the burden of this terrible condition is increasing and is now similar to the four most common causes of cancer combined, in terms of the scale of the challenge. The British Heart Foundation estimates that around 230,000 people in Scotland have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease, more than 700,000 with hypertension and around 48,000 with heart failure. Heart and circulatory diseases are killing three in every 10 people in Scotland.

Some 98% of those in the UK diagnosed with heart failure live with at least one other long-term condition, such as diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. As we have heard this afternoon, the signs of heart failure are there if you know how to recognise them: breathlessness, frequent and excessive tiredness, swollen ankles or legs, perhaps a persistent cough, a fast heart rate and dizziness. If anyone has these symptoms, it is very important that they go to their GP.

It is often the case that the underlying causes of heart failure are heavily influenced by lifestyle factors, which can cause heart disease and high blood pressure, although we have to be aware of genetic inheritance and the fact that some people are born, unfortunately, with congenital heart difficulties. While treatment is available, there is no real cure, but the important thing for us all to do is to do the best we can to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible. However, as we have heard, the scale of this illness is significant and demands our attention.

Those living with heart failure can find their lives limited in ways that detrimentally impact their quality of life. They may experience various physical and emotional symptoms, such as dyspnoea, fatigue, oedema, sleeping difficulties, depression and chest pain. These symptoms limit the daily physical and social activities of those living with heart failure and result in a poor quality of life. That, in turn, often corresponds with high hospitalisation and mortality rates.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government are taking action to tackle heart health problems and will publish an updated heart disease improvement plan later this spring, which will make sure that there is equitable access to diagnostic tests, treatment and care for people with heart disease in a timely manner. This must remain a national priority. In addition, £1 million has been invested in the heart disease improvement plan, supporting important work such as that led by the Heart Failure Hub and the cardiac rehabilitation champion. The recent publication of the British Heart Foundation Scotland strategy document has been welcomed by the Scottish Government, who are keen to work with the British Heart Foundation.

As we begin to hope that we can emerge from this health pandemic, we cannot forget the stark health inequalities that were exposed and exacerbated by covid-19. The disproportionate harm caused by covid-19 to a number of groups in our communities, including those with cardiovascular disease, has highlighted new vulnerabilities and underscored existing health inequalities. That is why the Scottish Government in their recent Budget delivered an increase of more than £800 million on health spending, bringing overall health funding to a total of £16 billion, with an additional investment of more than £1 billion to address pressures related to covid-19. A significant proportion of those resources will be spent on caring for those with heart disease. I urge the UK Government to match Scottish Government spending per capita on health and social care.

I shall end where I began, by saying that the answer to many of our health problems, and even our social problems, is to do all we can to build a more equitable society. If we can do that, fewer adults will develop heart failure and other serious life-limiting conditions. There will be fewer folk whose health prevents them from being economically active. We will have children who can reach their full potential if the chains of poverty and poor health outcomes can be broken. Health outcomes are driven by poverty and our health is the key to the kinds of lives that each of us can live, the kinds of opportunities that we can create for ourselves, and the kinds of paths that we can follow. As with so many things, we could make much greater inroads into this and other health inequalities if we were to tackle at source, with more vigour and determination, inequality born of poverty. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, I hope that the Minister will reflect on the fact that there is no better time than right now to look afresh at how our society works, to make it better for everyone.