Premature deaths in Scotland from strokes have been halved a year ahead of schedule, while early deaths from heart disease have decreased by almost 60 per cent, official figures show.

NHS Scotland set itself a target of reducing deaths from strokes by 50 per cent and cutting fatal heart attacks by 60 per cent between 1995 and 2010.

Official figures released today show that the health service reached its target on strokes in 2009, and missed the heart attack target by just 0.4%.

Public health minister Shona Robison hailed the figures as “a fantastic achievement”.

She said: “NHS Scotland has exceeded its target of achieving a 50 per cent reduction in premature stroke deaths, a year ahead of schedule.

“Between 1995 and 2009, not only have we seen a 54 per cent cut in deaths from stroke among under-75s, we’ve also seen a 59.6 per cent reduction, against a 60 per cent target, in early mortality rates from coronary heart disease.

“I’d like to thank NHS staff for the dedicated care and support they provide for people who have had a heart attack or a stroke.”

However, premature deaths from heart disease remain four and a half times higher in deprived areas than in non-deprived areas, although the numbers have decreased slightly in the last decade.

Between 2005 and 2009 there were 1,409 deaths from heart disease among under-65s in the most deprived areas of Scotland, compared to 310 in the least deprived areas.