A new coalition led by Public Health England (PHE) and NHS England has announced the first ever national ambitions to improve the detection and treatment of atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure and high cholesterol – the major causes of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Detecting and treating these conditions can prevent or delay the onset of CVD, but they often carry no symptoms meaning millions are unaware they are at risk and in need of treatment. Over five million people are currently living with high blood pressure undiagnosed in England alone. By 2029, PHE and NHS England want:

  • to detect and treat millions more people living with high blood pressure who are currently undiagnosed; currently, just over half (57%) of those with high blood pressure have been detected (6.8 million people) – the ambition is to increase this to four in five people (80%)
  • to ensure three quarters (75%) of 40- to 74-year-olds have received a formal CVD risk check and have had their cholesterol levels recorded; currently fewer than half (49%) of those eligible for a formal check have received one (7.6 million people)
  • to increase from 35% to 45% the proportion of 40 to 74 year olds at high risk of developing CVD who are treated with statins

The conditions can be detected through routine checks across community and healthcare settings. The ambitions include recommendations for decision-makers and frontline professionals on getting more people checked and best practice for identifying and treating those already at risk. People aged between 40 and 74 are also being urged to get their free NHS Health Check, which helps detect the early warning signs of CVD.

Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive, Public Health England, said: "Know your numbers and save your life. We know our PIN numbers but not the numbers that save our lives. Thousands of heart attacks and strokes can be prevented by more people knowing their blood pressure and cholesterol numbers and by seeking help early. Prevention is always better than cure."

CVD is the leading cause of premature death and disability in England, causing a death every four minutes. Achieving the national ambitions would help meet the long term plan target to prevent 150,000 heart attacks, strokes and cases of dementia within a decade.

The ambitions also commit to reducing the health inequalities associated with CVD, with people in the most deprived communities four-times more likely to die prematurely from CVD than those in the least deprived. Health inequality data on each of the high-risk conditions and tailored plans to address them will be published by 2021.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: "Prevention is at the heart of our vision for improving the health of the nation, empowering people to stay healthy, not just treating them when they’re ill. Almost half of those with high blood pressure are going about their daily lives without it being detected or treated. Millions of people are needlessly at risk of heart attacks or strokes when it could be prevented. So I want to help more people take the time out to protect their future health and get checked."

The NHS Long Term Plan has a target to prevent 150,000 heart attacks, strokes and cases of dementia within 10 years. By coming together across the system to agree these ambitions, we have set the goal posts for how we will achieve this target and continue our fight against the nation’s biggest killer.