Former Olympian appointed heart illness-prevention tsar

Ministers have appointed a former Olympian as a tsar to help people ward off illnesses linked to the heart.

Cardiologist Professor John Deanfield, who fenced in the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games, is to be the first “government champion for personalised prevention”.

Professor Deanfield, a professor of cardiology at University College London, will lead a taskforce which will come up with a cardiovascular disease prevention service, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

The group, made up of experts in the fields of health economics, behavioural science, health policy and technology and data, have been tasked with coming up with new ways to prevent heart and circulatory diseases.

The group has been asked to look at a number of potential ideas, including using personalised data and the latest health technology to predict and prevent ill-health.

They will also advise on how businesses, public services and people at an individual level could be incentivised to support prevention outside the NHS.

Prof Deanfield said: “I am thrilled to continue my work with the Government on cardiovascular disease prevention. This appointment provides a real opportunity to radically rethink our approach to cardiovascular health and disease prevention, and I’m confident we have the right people around the table to do this.

“We intend to build on my recent review of the NHS Health Check and evolve this vision into an ongoing, life-long programme that empowers people to take control of predicting, managing and reducing their lifetime cardiovascular risk.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Technology is crucial to a forward-looking, modern NHS, and Professor Deanfield’s work will help us understand how people across the country could use it in their day-to-day lives and prevent cardiovascular disease.

“These conditions account for a quarter of a million hospital admissions a year, and cost the NHS billions of pounds. This ambitious project could see real impact on those who suffer from or are at risk of this disease.”

It came as the DHSC announced that it is assessing how to roll out a digital NHS Health Check for adults aged 40 to 74.

The general check-up – also known as a mid-life MoT – is designed to spot early signs of stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes or dementia, and to help people lower their risk.

While the checks will continue in person, it is hoped that a digital service will help people to take independent steps to improve their health.

The DHSC said around eight in every 10 cases of cardiovascular disease can be attributed to modifiable risk factors such high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, poor diet and smoking.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to prevent cardiovascular disease and that this work will be led by an expert in the field.”