News, Population Health

Heart disease single largest factor behind out of work ill health


New report finds that people are more likely to leave work due to a heart condition than any other health issue, and warns that faltering efforts at prevention have cost thousands of lives.

Heart disease is the single largest driver of people leaving the workforce due to ill health, according to new research from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

The new paper, Broken hearted: A spotlight paper on cardio-vascular disease, finds that a heart disease diagnosis brings with it the largest risk of a person leaving the labour market, and that someone diagnosed with cardiovascular disease (CVD) has a 22 per cent chance of leaving their job. This compares to a 14 per cent risk for someone with a mental health condition and 16 per cent for a person with cancer.

Almost one in three of all working-age people who are economically inactive have a heart, blood pressure or circulatory condition, the report says. This figure rises among over 50s, a group the government is currently targeting in its efforts to get people back to work.

The report also reveals significant variation in CVD mortality across England and Wales, with the North West the worst affected region. It estimates that if the entire UK saw the same outcomes as the best tenth of local authorities, there would have been 32,000 fewer deaths in 2021 along – equivalent to 5 per cent of total CVD mortality.

Around 80 per cent of deaths from heart disease are preventable, with diet and nutrition, metabolic risks (e.g. high BMI) and tobacco use constituting the three greatest risk factors.

The report cites analysis from the British Heart Foundation that since February 2020, there have been nearly 100,000 more deaths involving CVD than would otherwise have been expected. It attributes this decline in outcomes to a slowdown in progress on prevention over the last decade. If the last decade had seen even half of the progress on preventable CVD mortality observed between 2005-2020, the report estimates that there would have been nearly 33,000 fewer deaths in 2019- equivalent to one in 20 deaths that year.

While virtually all NHS waiting lists have grown steadily in recent years, exacerbated by the pandemic, cardiology is something of an outlier, and waiting lists have tripled since 2012, higher than the overall growth in NHS waiting lists.

IPPR is calling on the government to implement a recovery plan for treating cardiovascular disease, helping both the NHS and the economy, 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, through increasing access to preventative medications, retaining staff and expanding access to personalised care.
  • Investing in research, with an immediate injection of £220 million for R&D in cardiovascular disease prevention – with an explicit goal of crowding in private investment.

Chris Thomas, author of the report and Head of 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.”

The full report can be accessed here.