Heart disease most likely health issue to drive people from work

People are more likely to leave work due to a heart condition than any other health issue, according to a new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank.

The IPPR found that more than mental health (14%), cancer (16%) or any other health condition, a heart disease diagnosis carries the biggest risk of leaving the labour market. Someone with the onset of cardiovascular disease (CVD) between 2021 and 2022 had a 22% likelihood of leaving their job.

selective focus photography of heart organ illustration

Of working age people who are economically inactive, almost one in three have a heart, blood pressure or circulatory health condition.

This is particularly acute for people over the age of 50, which is currently the government’s target group for getting people back into work.

There is significant variation in cardiovascular disease mortality across England and Wales, with the North West particularly badly affected. If the entire UK had the same outcomes as the best tenth of local authorities, there would have been 32,000 fewer deaths in 2021 alone – the equivalent of 5% of all mortality.

This is linked to a slowdown in progress on prevention in the last decade. Had we maintained even half the progress on preventable cardiovascular disease mortality observed between 2005 and 2010, the report estimates that there would have been nearly 33,000 fewer deaths in 2019 – one in 20 deaths that year.

While NHS waiting lists have been steadily growing over recent years, exacerbated by the pandemic, cardiology waiting lists have tripled since 2012, higher than the growth in overall NHS waiting lists.

Heart disease is highly preventable, with around 80% of heart disease deaths being avoidable. However, it requires proactive preventative action.

The IPPR called on the government to implement a recovery plan for treating cardiovascular disease by:

  • Delivering new preventative policies, such as extending the current ‘sugar levy’ on soft drinks to all high-fat and high-salt products, and using the revenue to subsidise healthy food options
  • Getting waiting lists for cardiology down by increasing access to preventative medications, retaining staff and expanding access to personalised care
  • Investing in research with an immediate injection of £220m for R&D in cardiovascular disease prevention, with an explicit goal of crowding in private investment

Chris Thomas, head of the IPPR’s Commission on Health and Prosperity, said: ‘After great strides in tackling cardiovascular disease in the 20th century, the UK is now stalling if not reversing. This is not just costing lives, but also livelihoods. The good news is that heart disease is one of the most preventable health conditions, but the government has to get on to the front foot and deliver proactive policies. Both human lives and economic prosperity depend on it.’

Image: jesse orrico

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