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Health News Watch: Tackling The “big 5”

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt’s announcement that improvements in the fight against the big five causes of death could save 30,000 lives by 2020 has been widely covered in the media.  The Government’s ambition to cut avoidable deaths from cancer, heart, stroke, respiratory and liver disease is part of a wider aim to ensure the health of our nation is among the best in Europe.

The announcement coincides with a major new report from The Lancet into the UK’s health performance, which shows that we “lag” behind our global counterparts.  The UK ranked 12th out of 19 countries of similar affluence in 2010 in terms of healthy life expectancy at birth, according to an analysis from the Global Burden of Disease data collected by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

Mr Hunt denounced Britain’s performance as “shocking’ and called for action from local health commissioners (imminently due to take up posts in the NHS reforms ‘reshuffle’) to challenge this status quo. The Secretary of State for Health also announced the Government’s new strategy to tackle cardiovascular disease (CVD), still the UK’s biggest killer, representing 30% of all deaths in 2011.   The plan pledges support to the NHS and local authorities in delivering improved outcomes for those with or at risk of CVD.

Trinity PR client, Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), responded to the news by welcoming this much needed focus on heart health, in particular highlighting the importance of health checks to improve prevention and management of people at risk of heart conditions.

Dr Stephen Cox, Director of Screening at CRY  comments “We also hope this is will be a positive step in working with GPs to ensure the correct referrals for young people with cardiac symptoms (e.g. chest pain and passing out). Currently 20% of young sudden cardiac deaths occur in those who have experienced symptoms, so it is absolutely vital GP’S know to refer these patients for the appropriate investigations.

“The Government has also focused one of their key points today on offering tests to all family members of younger people dying suddenly from cardiac conditions.

“Since CRY was founded in 1995 we have always said it is unacceptable that a young person has to die before we start to investigate other family members who might also be at risk of sudden death.

“Every week in the UK, 12 apparently fit and healthy young people (aged 35 and under) die from a previously undiagnosed heart condition. That’s around 600 a year but there is no official ‘action’ in place to prevent these tragedies.

Dr Cox adds: “In around 80% of cases of young sudden cardiac death, there are no symptoms. This is why CRY believes screening is so vitally important and currently tests around 12,000 young people every year.

“There are international recommendations that all young people involved in organised sport should have an ECG prior to participation – and in Italy where screening is mandatory for all young people engaged in organised sport, they have reduced the incidence of young sudden cardiac death by 89%.

“However, in CRY’s experience the vast majority of sudden deaths occur at a “grass roots” level and among the general public, doing everyday activities such as swimming, sleeping or driving.

“One in every 300 of the young people that CRY tests, will be identified with a potentially life threatening condition. And, one in a hundred people will be found to have a condition that is not immediately life threatening but can cause problems in the fourth decade of life if not monitored.

Dr Cox concludes: “Current policy states that “screening should not be offered” but this position is at odds with European guidelines.

“CRY therefore has launched  an e-petition which urges the Government to comprehensively review its current policy on cardiac screening



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