A lot has changed since the NHS was born 70 years ago. The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has been involved in some of the most game-changing developments, from pioneering heart transplants to funding new genetic testing programmes. In the last 50 years, the annual number of people dying from heart and circulatory diseases has halved thanks to these advances. Seven out of 10 people now survive a heart attack. Most babies born with heart defects now survive. These are major success stories for the NHS and the BHF.
Biomedical research and its translation into practice have driven this revolution that continues to save lives today. It was only in the mid-1970s that BHF Professor Michael Davies discovered that heart attacks are caused by a blood clot in the coronary artery. Since then, the BHF has helped to develop and trial a whole range of treatments, including clot-busting drugs, beta-blockers and statins, as well as quicker, more sensitive diagnostic tests. Reductions in smoking have also helped to prevent coronary heart disease.
But heart and circulatory diseases are far from a problem solved. Heart and circulatory diseases still kill 1 in 4 people in Wales and are the biggest cause of death worldwide.
Our challenge today is to understand heart disease, stroke, vascular dementia, and their risk factors such as diabetes, and how they are connected, to develop new treatments for people living with multiple conditions. We know people with coronary heart disease are more than twice as likely to suffer a stroke or develop vascular dementia, and diabetes can also double the risk of developing these conditions – but medical research and the NHS still focus on treating individual illnesses separately.
More people than ever live with multiple inter-related conditions – also known as “multi-morbidity”. In Wales today, 90% of the 120,000 people with coronary heart disease have at least one other major condition – and 60% have three or more other conditions, such as diabetes, heart failure or dementia. Living with multiple conditions significantly reduces people’s quality of life and increases the risk of early death – but multi-morbidities remain poorly understood and are not fully accounted for by an aging population.
We can only reverse these trends by funding more research into all conditions of the heart and circulatory system, with a focus on how they can be treated together. This type of research is currently chronically under-funded but with more support the BHF can help tackle these conditions head on. This could ensure people in Wales don’t have to spend years of their life suffering from several long-term debilitating conditions, or worse, dying early from them. That’s why we need to make new connections in Wales and build our supporter base. That’s why we’ll be talking about what we do at the Eisteddfod in Cardiff Bay.
Translating new solutions into practice will also be more complex and requires new connections too – both within the health and social care system in Wales and beyond. The Welsh Government’s latest plan for health and social care advocates for more innovation and integration but fails to engage with the “evils” of disease that the NHS was founded to address – unlike NHS England’s plan which makes tackling heart and circulatory disease a top priority. We need to bring together new partners to make these diseases a priority in Wales again and drive research and innovation through into practice.
Come and meet the BHF Cymru team at the Eisteddfod, find out what we do, and how we can work together. It’s only through making new connections that our research and innovation will be able to beat the heartbreak of heart and circulatory diseases for people in Wales.
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