Revelations that the government’s healthcare secretary, Matt Hancock, had commissioned an advisory group to examine the potential impacts of heart disease on women raises concerns about his appetite for analysis. He must be growing increasingly alarmed about the challenges and implications for his department, and we can hope he recognises the need to involve MPs as regularly as health and social care professionals.
Heart disease among women – a prime minister must speak out Read more
The treatment burden will hit women disproportionately, with female disability rates almost doubling by 2035 compared with today, making gender a particularly important consideration when formulating government policy.
It is clear that awareness of women’s heart health, and its risks, remains low. The more we learn, the more tragic it is that our ministers see yet another area of disease and disability largely ignored. Alongside concerns about female suicide, heart disease is our seventh-largest killer of women.
Public health organisations, such as the Nuffield Trust, are calling for more to be done to tackle the gap between symptoms and risk assessment and delivery of support. Gender equity in government programmes and the NHS are becoming increasingly important in such a high-profile area of public policy.
Women aged between 25 and 74 are most at risk of dying of cardiovascular disease and were diagnosed with it as a result of these events. More than half of such deaths occur before age 70.
To their credit, MPs were keen to find out more when they convened an emergency debate on the introduction of payment by results for cancer services in the UK. The Speaker’s decision to record more than 200,000 submissions demonstrated the strength of feeling and demand for reform to improve the patient experience and get us closer to the vision set out in the Dilnot report.
We must ensure MPs hear directly from patients, to ensure they are making sense of this new trend towards payment by results
We were delighted to hear that many patients made their views very clear in the register submitted to the Commons. More than 15,000 people wrote that the new system did not work in their favour, regardless of costs or benefits; and the need for alternative strategies, such as nurse partnership, was recognised. In the end, the minister did not refer the points raised in the register back to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) or to the Office for Budget Responsibility for further advice, but said he would not support their implementation.
Meanwhile, across the Commons, heart-healthy MPs will continue to scrutinise proposals for the pan-EU ban on trans fats. The idea was first raised as part of the health select committee’s review into food and farming regulations in the EU. The committee has twice launched urgent inquiries into the policies on meat production and chemicals with proposals scheduled to be voted on next week. Questions have been asked about the impact on food prices, farmers and consumers. And, after extensive evidence, we came to the conclusion that this is about animal welfare and animal rights.
Female MPs have both the responsibility and opportunity to create opportunities for better patient care, and to recommend new policies that can save lives, reduce suffering and ensure the NHS and society receive a fair deal. We will continue to seek information from you, and all patients, in order to find out about the problems that affect women and hold ministers to account.
Patients and those who treat them have already played their part, in contributing to a report published last month on the potential impact of ageing on heart disease, urging ministers to focus attention on the factors that determine risk.
Patients and those who treat them have both the responsibility and opportunity to make changes, and I welcome the government’s adoption of proposals to build on the evidence on health inequalities and health inequalities, introduced by the Labour MP and NHS spending watchdog Margaret Hodge, the public spending watchdog.
This week’s announcement of plans to invest £2bn in public health at a regional level highlights an opportunity for government to support improvements in health and make a real difference to our society by playing a key role in health disparities.