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Future heart problems may cause pension crisis and elevated NHS costs

A major new report 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 aging population.
The report, from cholesterol charity H·E·A·R·T UK, entitled Cholesterol and the Ageing Population; Avoiding the Crisis in Health and Pension Costs has been funded by means of an educational grant provided by Merck Sharp & Dohme Limited and Schering-Plough Limited. The report 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 Organization, globally, 60% of coronary heart disease and 40% of strokes can be attributed to unhealthy cholesterol levels. 
  • There is a high dependency rate among those aged 60-64 who have a long standing illness, disability or infirmity - only one in four 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 puts 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.  

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 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 PCTs were spending public health money allocated by 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 H·E·A·R·T 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."
The report recommends four areas of immediate action for Government:

  • A publicly funded campaign to raise awareness of cholesterol.
  • Greater access to cholesterol testing as part of a NHS heart risk assessment to help people understand their own heart health.
  • Implementation of the latest clinical standards (JBS2) on cardiovascular disease management for high risk groups, which the government has stalled.
  • Better training for primary care professionals on diet, public health measures and prevention of heart disease.  

Download the report at