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During Heart Awareness Month, Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland is calling for more investment in support to be made available to people diagnosed with heart failure as NHS figures reveal increasing numbers of people – almost 48,000 – are living with the devastating disease in Scotland.
The figures also show that over the last 10 years there has been a 54% increase in the number of people discharged from hospital with heart failure, up from around 11,000 in 2008-09 to over 17,000 a year in 2018-19.
Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland fears that without taking urgent steps to ensure proper support is put in place now, Scotland will not meet the growing need to help people and their families as they cope with a heart failure diagnosis. Last year, a report on specialist heart failure nursing in Scotland showed a lack of investment despite growing caseloads.
Heart failure is usually incurable, and only half of people survive beyond 5 years after diagnosis. The heart can’t function properly and struggles to pump blood around the body. Yet few people are aware of what it is and often confuse it with heart attacks or cardiac arrest.
The rise in numbers is thought to be partly down to an increasing number of people surviving events like a heart attack, which damages the heart, and Scotland’s ageing population, as heart failure becomes more common with age. But sometimes it can affect younger people out of the blue, often as a result of undetected heart conditions.
Download our Living with Heart Failure booklet (PDF 2.31MB)
Because of the poor prognosis and the effects of symptoms such as breathlessness and fatigue, without support many people with heart failure experience poor quality of life or can struggle with mental health illness such as depression. Like conditions such as cancer, people and their families need a package of support they can access – but with heart failure the awareness and investment often just isn’t there.
Brian Waller, aged 54 and from Angus, was diagnosed with heart failure in November 2019. The diagnosis came as a huge shock to him and his wife Wendy.
“Just a few months ago I was fit and healthy, with no sign that anything was wrong. Then in November I suddenly found myself in hospital having endless tests and scans, after falling unwell. A cardiologist broke the news that I had heart failure, probably as a result of cardiomyopathy.
“Christmas was particularly difficult for me and my family, while we tried to understand what had happened and what it would mean for the future. I found myself wondering how many more Christmases I would be able to spend with my family. Since then there have been some dark moments but my wife Wendy has been an amazing source of strength, despite going through a lot herself.
“We’ve come through the last few months together, with the support of my Heart Failure nurse Jill who has been invaluable. We meet with her regularly, and she’s also available on the phone or by email with answers to any questions I have. She’s helped me understand that there is a life with heart failure, explaining how far treatments have progressed in recent years, and the difference that my healthy and active lifestyle makes. I now have to take a cocktail of medicines every night to manage the condition, but I’ve recently managed to go back to running. I’m going to do everything I can to give myself the active and long life I expected beforehand.”
Jane-Claire Judson, Chief Executive at Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, said:
“Behind the figures is a human cost to heart failure. It’s a devastating disease, and although it affects more people in Scotland than common cancers, many people simply don’t know what it is, or what impact it has.
“This has been on the Scottish Government’s radar since the 2014 Heart Disease Improvement Plan. We need to see a renewed focus on ensuring that everyone gets the support they need, whether it’s a specialist heart failure nurse, or local community support.
“When people think of heart disease it’s often heart attacks that come first to mind, but heart failure is far more deadly, and is on the increase.
“If we don’t give heart failure the attention it deserves, people won’t be given the best chance to have the best possible quality of life. We’ve clearly been successful at helping people survive longer with heart failure, but we need to help them really live.”
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