Heart of the matter: nurse-led collaboration to get serious about preventing cardiovascular disease

A collaborative forum aims to take a 'whole-system' approach to reduce death rates from heart attacks and strokes 

An ambitious group of healthcare professionals and government officials intends to radically reduce death rates from heart attack and stroke over the next five years

Picture: iStock

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a huge public health problem; the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that there are almost 125,000 deaths from CVD a year in England, making up one quarter of deaths.

But up to 90% of deaths from CVD in the under-75s can be prevented. Poverty results in poorer outcomes, for example, so that the rate of premature death from CVD in the most deprived 10% of the population is almost twice that among the 10% who are the best off.

7 million

people in the UK are affected by cardiovascular disease

Source: British Heart Foundation

But now, the newly-formed Cardiovascular Disease Prevention System Leadership Forum estimates it can help prevent 100,000 heart attacks and strokes a year in England through collaborative working.

'Whole-system' approach

Public Health England (PHE) national lead for CVD prevention and associate deputy chief nurse Jamie Waterall heads up the group.

Professor Waterall looked to Canada, where healthcare officials have taken a ‘whole-system’ approach to tackling poor rates of detection and treatment of hypertension. He says this approach is now embedded in the forum.

‘If we are going to achieve a radical upgrade in prevention, we need everyone’

‘I brought together 25 organisations from across the health and social care system, including NHS England, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Royal College of Nursing and heart charities,’ he explains.

‘We have a complex health and social care system and we convened this group to work out how we can work together in this system to focus our energies on CVD prevention.'

Jamie Waterall

Professor Waterall adds: ‘CVD is responsible for too many deaths and to tackle it we need to come together, work collaboratively and build on each other’s roles.

1 in 4

premature deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease

Source: Public Health England

‘As a nurse, I have seen families and individuals experiencing disability or loss from CVD. With concerted efforts, we could prevent 100,000 heart attacks and strokes.’

Three areas of focus

The forum hopes to launch its plan to improve outcomes from CVD by the end of the year. These will focus on three areas:

  • Blood pressure – a leading cause of heart attack and stroke in the UK.
  • Cholesterol – a risk factor that contributes to premature death.
  • Atrial fibrillation – responsible for thousands of people dying or experiencing preventable stroke.

The hope is that, by working together to set out key commitments to tackle CVD, the organisations can help keep each other accountable to individual and overall goals.

Part of Professor Waterall’s role at PHE over his five years there has included leading the All Our Health programme, a resource to help healthcare professionals in England maximise their ability to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities.

Nurses at the heart of the agenda

Now, he will be adding a CVD component to the framework to help raise awareness of the challenges, and he says nurses are central to helping realise the forum’s goals.

£8.9 billion

Cost of cardiovascular disease to the NHS each year

Source: Public Health England

‘Nurses are the largest workforce in the NHS that can deliver against our agenda,’ he says.

‘Nurses are right at the heart of this.’

Professor Waterall adds: ‘If we are going to achieve a radical upgrade in prevention, we need everyone, so I would encourage nurses to get more familiar with the CVD agenda and think about what role they can play.

‘I have nursed in various roles across the system and there has not been a role where I could not have contributed to this.’

Above all, he says, ‘We don’t have a choice. The only way to make the health and social care system more sustainable is by getting more serious about prevention.’

Stephanie Jones-Berry is a freelance journalist

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