In addressing the cardiovascular disease burden the NHS faces significant challenges, requiring both investment and education. But technology and innovation can be instrumental in driving prevention, early intervention and in tackling health inequalities

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Cardiovascular disease, including stroke, is the second biggest killer in the UK with 125,445 people dying from CVD in 2021 and 30 per cent of these dying prematurely. An estimated 6.4 million people live with heart disease, with people living in the most deprived areas being four times more likely to die prematurely than those in the least deprived areas.

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“Worldwide CVD is the biggest cause of mortality and in the UK it is on a par with cancer,” says Huon Gray, cardiovascular consultant and former national clinical director for heart disease at NHS England. “For many decades the preventable mortality rate for CVD has been falling but in recent years that has stalled and some would argue that it is beginning to increase again.”

It is not just a matter of mortality, he adds, it is also morbidity: CVD can mean people prematurely dropping out of the workforce because of ill health or not being able to do the things they enjoy. That is bad for the individual and for the wider society.

But addressing some of these problems is challenging for an NHS still suffering from the impact of the pandemic. It will mean identifying people at risk of developing CVD or who are in the early stages of the disease as soon as possible, offering them diagnostic tests and then timely treatment. Currently, many people are undiagnosed until the disease has progressed: around 40 per cent of people with heart valve problems are undiagnosed – even though the condition is usually treatable.