Fears of Covid ‘domino effect’ as deaths from heart disease and strokes rise

·4-min read
Deaths from heart disease and stroke increased in 2020, with campaigners warning coronavirus had caused a ‘dangerous domino effect’. (Hannah McKay/PA)
Deaths from heart disease and stroke increased in 2020, with campaigners warning coronavirus had caused a ‘dangerous domino effect’. (Hannah McKay/PA)

The Covid crisis may have caused a “dangerous domino effect” on people’s health, campaigners warned, as deaths from heart disease and strokes both increased.

Official figures showed there were 6,727 deaths from coronary heart disease in 2020 – the highest total since 2017.

Meanwhile, deaths from strokes increased to 2,180, the largest number since 2016, with the number of strokes recorded at the highest level for a decade at 9,352.

The data, from Public Health Scotland also showed that death rates for men who suffer a heart attack are now higher than they were in 2013 – despite an overall fall in the mortality rates.

Jane-Claire Judson, chief executive at the charity Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland, said the latest figures “confirm what we’ve long feared – the initial Covid crisis has created a dangerous domino effect on people’s health that will have serious consequences for years to come”.

She added: “We’re seeing some of the recent hard-won progress made in tackling stroke and heart disease stall.

“More families are grieving the loss of a loved one and our services teams are seeing people who have more complex needs because their strokes or heart problems were identified later than they normally would.

“We need to learn from these figures to avoid this becoming a recurring tragedy. Covid and its impacts aren’t going away anytime soon and we need to prepare our health services to cope with surges by preventing pressures on the system.”

Ms Judson stated: “By taking action now there’s still a chance that we can help limit some of the damage.

“If we don’t the NHS will be in a permanent state of crisis management and that will affect hard-working NHS staff and the care we all receive.”

Her comments came as Public Health Scotland found that while the overall age and sex adjusted mortality rate from heart attacks had “decreased substantially” over the least 10 years, it noted that from 2014 onwards “there was a flattening in the rate of decline in the mortality rate of heart attacks followed by small increases in rates each year since 2016”.

The mortality rate for men who suffer a heart attack had “now returned to the levels in 2013”, it stated.

Data showed for men the mortality rate from heart attack in 2020 was 108.9 per 100,000 of the population – up from the previous year and above the rate of 107.4 per 100,000 people recorded in 2013.

That comes despite the overall mortality rate from heart attacks falling by 16% over the decade, from 96.7 per 100,000 in 2011 to 81.2 per 100,000 in 2020.

Overall the mortality rate from coronary heart disease – which includes other conditions as well as heart attacks – fell by 24% over the same period, going from 174 per 100,000 people to 132 per 100,000.

But Public Health Scotland noted: “Whilst there has been a 24% reduction in deaths from coronary heart disease in Scotland over the last 10 years, the rate of decline has slowed in the last five years.”

While cases of coronary heart disease have decreased across Scotland, the figures also showed incidence of the disease was 74% higher in the most deprived parts of Scotland than it was in the least – at 430 per 100,000 compared to 247 per 100,000.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is good news that the rate of incidence and the number of deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke have both decreased over the last decade.

“In particular the mortality rates for stroke have reduced by 26% over the last 10 years, which is great progress.

“We continue to deliver on our 2019-20 Programme for Government commitments on stroke. In particular we have made significant progress in establishing a thrombectomy service in Scotland. Pilot services are already under way in Tayside and Lothian, with a national service expected to be fully operational by 2023.

“Our Heart Disease Action Plan sets out measures to minimise preventable heart disease and ensure those who are affected have timely and equitable access to diagnosis, treatment and care.”

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