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Report reveals potential crisis for future of pensions and the NHS

19 February 2007

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A major new report published today (Monday 19 February) sends a stark warning to the government that rising ill health from cholesterol-related cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) will undermine its plans for people to work for longer. The result may be a crisis in the increased pension and NHS costs of an ageing population.
The report, from cholesterol charity HEART UK, entitled Cholesterol and the ageing population; avoiding the crisis in health and pension costs, shows:

  • While the number of deaths from coronary heart disease (CHD) is falling, the number of people living with CHD and leaving the workforce prematurely is rising and is set to double over the next 25 years. According to a report from the World Health Organisation, globally, 60% of coronary heart disease and 40% of strokes can be attributed to unhealthy cholesterol levels.
  • There is a high dependency rate amongst those aged 60 to 64 who have a longstanding illness, disability or infirmity – only 1 in 4 are economically active.
  • The government’s plan to raise the retirement age and keep people working longer is under threat as workers face increasing ill-health and incapacity. By 2020, CHD will be the leading cause of disablement in the UK.
  • GP appointments associated with CHD will rise by 40% (678,000 extra GP appointments every year) and hospitalisations by 34% (over 36,000 extra hospitalisations every year) by 2020.
  • A recent study of the economic burden of cardiovascular disease put the current annual cost to the UK economy at over £7b. This equates to the cost of over 400,000 junior nurses or the cost of treating 300,000 women with herceptin.

Cardiovascular disease is the nation’s biggest killer, with more than 120,000 deaths in 2005. In 2004, nine times more women died of heart disease than breast cancer. Cholesterol is the single greatest risk factor for heart disease. It is also a major risk factor in stroke and in the cardiovascular disease associated with diabetes and obesity.

It is estimated that over two-thirds of UK adults have cholesterol levels higher than recommended healthy levels. For most people, unhealthy levels of cholesterol can be avoided simply by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.

The report, which was funded by means of an educational grant provided by Merck Sharp & Dohme Limited and Schering-Plough Limited, identifies:

  • Government implementation of the public health white paper has been slow to date and has largely ignored cholesterol. A campaign on obesity, promised in 2004, is still in development and, when launched, will focus on childhood obesity rather than the “baby boomers” generation at most immediate risk of ill-health and dependency on tax-funded services.
  • By 2006, two years after the public health white paper, just 15% of primary care trusts (PCTs) were spending public health money allocated by the government in the way it was intended.
  • 30,000 deaths each year could be prevented if the NHS achieved its own targets for identifying and treating all those at a high risk of cardiovascular disease. This “treatment gap” exists because testing to identify high-risk patients is patchy and not all who should receive cholesterol lowering drugs receive them.

Professor Andrew Neil, Chairman of HEART UK, said: “In recent years, the NHS has made fantastic improvements in preventing deaths from heart disease. But the number of people developing and living with heart disease is spiralling, and the result is our government is sleepwalking into a potential health and pensions crisis.” 

An ICM survey conducted for HEART UK also released today (Monday 19 February) reveals the need and desire for a greater understanding in heart health. Almost half of those surveyed incorrectly believed cancer was a greater threat to their health than heart disease – 48% said that they would like information on how to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle from their GP practice.