Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is one of the leading causes of morbidity, disability and health inequalities, affecting approximately 6% of the adult population in England.
To provide greater understanding on the state of CVD prevention services across England, the NHS Benchmarking Network publishes an annual CVDPrevent audit report. The latest iteration is much more oriented to looking through the lens of health inequalities and regional variation in care, highlighting the significant issue of a postcode lottery in cardiovascular care across the country. This new angle of focus of putting inequalities in the spotlight in the CVDPrevent report rightfully signals that this is where the focus should be for both health system leaders and industry working in this space alike.
The report indicates some positive highlights for example with the prescription of anticoagulation drug therapy for those with atrial fibrillation at high-risk of stroke rising to 88.9% – only 1.1 percentage point below the national ambition to reach 90% by 2029.
However, there remains some distance to go on the road to recovery from the pandemic with hypertension services particularly lagging behind others and health inequalities and variation remaining prevalent. Notably, individuals from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background were identified as being the least likely to be prescribed an appropriate drug therapy, receive monitoring, or be treated to target with similar issues present across sex, age and deprivation level.
Alongside variation in treatment and management, there is also significant variation in local approaches to CVD prevention. Our research and analysis of ICS strategies, planning documents and data relating to CVD-prevention, has found that there is a significant level of variation present in the level of planning for CVD prevention services, as well in care and outcomes.
It is therefore particularly welcome to see the recent prioritisation of CVD services on the national policy agenda through the intention to publish a Major Conditions Strategy later this year and more recently through the appointment of Professor John Deanfield as the first ever Government Champion for Personalised Prevention. Both developments recognise the issue of inequality and unwarranted variation in the absence of a dedicated Health Disparities White Paper.
However, the test of any such policy is whether it can be implemented uniformly to impact change across the country and not exacerbate variation as well as whether it can truly trickle down and impact at the local place-based level. To do so these policies will need to balance national direction with a sufficient amount of autonomy to allow for population-based CVD prevention strategies, an ambition of newly formed integrated care systems.
Although the report demonstrates that progress is being made in this hugely important disease area, it is clear to see that much work remains to be done. Promising policies with high potential are a welcome sight to see and only time will tell if they can truly make the impact they set out to achieve.