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Thursday, July 8, 1999 Published at 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK


Prevention the key on heart disease

Heart disease kills more than 150,000 people a year in the UK

The White Paper says there should be a reduction in deaths from strokes and heart disease by 40% in people under 75.
Public Health

The targets are more ambitious than those contained in the Green Paper published last year.

The government hopes they will save an estimated 12,000 lives a year.

It is appointing a heart disease task force with a national supremo to champion the cause, and placing £2m worth of heart defibrillators into public venues so that trained members of the public can tend heart attack victims.

[ image: Many people who have heart attacks die before reaching hospital]
Many people who have heart attacks die before reaching hospital
Apart from this, the government sees prevention as key to achieving its target and believes that the new Health Development Agency, which replaces the Health Education Authority in England, will persuade more of the public to stop smoking, reduce stress, eat more healthily and take exercise.

And it hopes its economic policies will increase prosperity and therefore cut the overall level of disease.

Heart disease is the UK's leading killer - 93,000 men and 78,000 women died from it in 1991, and a quarter of these were under 65.

The factors that make someone more likely to suffer from it are a family history of heart disease, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking.

High blood pressure is a leading cause of strokes, where a blood clot blocks a blood vessel leading to the brain, starving it of oxygen, causing damage or even death.

Every year, about 100,000 people in the UK suffer strokes for the first time - 10,000 of them are under retirement age. About a third of major strokes are fatal, a third result in some disability and a third have no lasting ill effects.

[ image:  ]
Stroke is the third highest cause of death, and the largest cause of severe disability in England and Wales.

Smoking, a major cause of coronary heart disease and hypertension, is already being targeted in a government anti-smoking initiative, which includes a tobacco advertising ban and free nicotine replacement patches for poorer patients who want to give up.

In addition, as a measure to tackle high blood pressure, the government says it will enter negotiations with the food industry to cut the salt content of some foods.

Shock tactics

One key proposal is that defibrillators, the electric shock machines that can restart the heart following a massive heart attack, be placed in public places for use by trained people.

The government is making £2m available to fund 400 machines.

The public will be trained through a new "Healthy Citizen" programme.

[ image: Defibrillators could be available in public places]
Defibrillators could be available in public places
It has been suggested that railway stations and shopping centres are ideal places to put the devices.

The initiative has been welcomed by Baroness Audrey Emerton, Chief Commander of St John Ambulance.

She said: "Around two thirds of all patients with coronary heart disease die before reaching hospital. The speed with which defibrillation is performed is absolutely crucial."

Putting defibrillators into the community would "undoubtedly" save lives, she said.

Professor Sir Charles George, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said he was "delighted" by the proposal.

"The presence of defibrillators and fully trained operators in public venues could make the difference between life and death for someone having a cardiac arrest."

But Shadow Health Minister Dr Liam Fox criticised the defibrillator pledge, questioning how members of the public would know when to use the devices.

He said: "How will they be trained? what indemnity will there be?

"It would be better to spend the money on improving ambulance response times."

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