A new initiative at a venerable City of London hospital is taking cardio care into the heart of British businesses. Here the executive director of Barts Heart Centre explains the problem and suggests changes you can make for a longer life
Every three minutes in the UK somebody dies from cardiovascular heart disease (CVD). It causes more than a quarter of all deaths in this country, around 155,000 each year, and there are approximately seven million Britons who live with CVD. The British Heart Foundation estimates the cost to the UK economy at £15bn.
Modern working life – with its attendant stress, long working hours, lack of exercise and poor diet – can mean business leaders are running a greater risk of heart disease. But a new scheme is taking heart health directly to the business community.
In November 2015, the UK’s largest heart centre opened at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. Charles Knight, a professor of cardiology and the MD for St Barts, says: “We see over 40,000 new patients every year and will treat over half a million people in the next decade, which is more than the working population of the City of London.”
St Bartholomew’s has always had close ties to the City. As Knight, executive director of the Barts Heart Centre, explains: “It is the oldest hospital in Europe. It’s nearly 900 years old and sits in the middle of the City of London. Throughout its history it was primarily reliant, before the foundation of the NHS, on the generosity of Londoners and the business community.”
He adds: “So now we’re the largest heart surgery in the UK and one of the biggest in Europe and this gives us an enormous opportunity to treat more people and to treat people using the latest techniques and innovations.”
In a sign of its place at the cutting edge of tackling heart disease, Barts Charity set up Circulate to create partnerships between the heart centre and businesses across central and east London.
The Circulate network has three aims: to fund innovation in healthcare and research that can transform outcomes for cardiac patients; to engage local employees on the subject of CVD for longer-term prevention; and to raise awareness around cardiac conditions.
Knight explains: “Circulate is a key vehicle to allow businesses to invest in and sponsor innovative ways of treating patients with heart disease both by funding research and by funding equipment which goes above and beyond what the NHS can provide.”
Bespoke cardio care
In return, Barts Heart Centre will work with those businesses and can utilise a team of heart specialists to go into a company and talk about heart disease, including the ways to both prevent and manage it. Circulate will tailor the service to the needs of that business.
A number of companies have already struck up partnerships with Circulate including the law firm Linklaters, creative agency Clinic and Beaufort stockbrokers as well as the City of London police.
“To some extent what we do is bespoke,” says Knight. “Some of our experts in heart rhythm problems have gone into a variety of companies and given talks. Hearing from a cardiologist does bring it home in a way that perhaps a story in a newspaper doesn’t.”
Atrial fibrillation, an irregular and often abnormally fast heartbeat, is the most common of heart rhythm disorders, present in one in every 50 people, most of whom are middle aged and physically fit, but regular drinkers leading stressful lives.
“We also want to look after the next generation by getting good research into how we can prevent sudden death and identify people who have familial hypercholesterolaemia,” says Knight.
The latter relates to people with genetically high levels of cholesterol. Around 250,000 Britons have this condition but the vast majority of cases go undetected. Knight adds: “You can do a lot to prevent heart disease by taking some simple measures such as no smoking, good diet, getting your cholesterol checked regularly and exercise. This very simple stuff can make a dramatic difference.”
He is incredulous, however, about the number of people who still smoke despite the obvious health risks. “If you walk out of St Barts and walk through the streets around the City you’ll see very clever, very high-achieving people and you see so many of them smoking in the street.
“We’ve seen more people coming in who have had a heart attack in their thirties or forties. It’s not something that just affects the old. The numbers are small but significant. Often it is smoking that is one thing causing it whereas, as you get older, other factors come into the equation. They need some sort of release but it’s crazy. And that is really Circulate’s mission, to use the heart centre to promote a healthier lifestyle through the institutions working in and around us.”
Knight believes that businesses can reap benefits by raising awareness around the causes of heart disease. “Any good business knows the key thing it has to invest in is staff, in their development and wellbeing. If you’re losing people because of avoidable health problems then that is bad business and bad medicine.”
To find out more about this initiative at bartscharitycirculate.org.uk
5 ways to tackle heart disease
Test your cholesterol Eighty per cent of cases of genetically high cholesterol go undetected according to the cholesterol charity, Heart UK
Quit smoking Nearly 100,000 smokers in the UK die from smoking-related causes each year
Regular exercise Changing a meeting in the office to a walking meeting gets you 30 minutes of good exercise every working day
Don’t stress out Stress can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. A balanced diet and regular physical activity, yoga or other relaxation techniques can help
A balanced diet Only a quarter of UK adults consume the minimum recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day