We're Making Heart Attack Progress, But We Can't Stop Now

27/01/2012 22:14 GMT | Updated 28/03/2012 10:12 BST

New heart statistics published this week are a welcome reminder of how far we've come in the past decade. Between 2002 and 2010, the proportion of people in the UK who die from a heart attack each year has more than halved.

The figures, published in the British Medical Journal, show that each year between 2002 and 2010, the rate of heart attacks fell by an impressive 5%. For people who did have a heart attack, the chance of dying fell even more dramatically, by 9% a year. These figures are true for both women and men.

This good news is due partly to prevention of heart attacks - by better management of risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol - and due partly to better treatment of heart attack patients when they reach hospital.

Last year was our 50th birthday. When the BHF was formed, in 1961, the number of people dying from heart attack was huge. You were around four times more likely to die of a heart attack in the days when Harold MacMillan was prime minister than you are today.

But there is so much more still to do. Heart attacks claim around 88,000 lives every year, and heart and circulatory disease is still the UK's biggest killer. As the authors of this new report point out, more than 840,000 people had a heart attack in the years covered in the study.

This study also reminds us that the people who reach hospital quickly are the lucky ones. About a quarter of those who suffer a heart attack die from a cardiac arrest before medical help arrives - we know that of the 30,000 people each year who suffer a cardiac arrest, only one in 10 will survive. We could save thousands of lives each year if more people attempted rapid Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) in cases of cardiac arrest.

That's why we launched our new Hands-Only CPR campaign earlier this month. You might have seen our advertisement starring Hollywood hard man Vinnie Jones on the TV, but if you've missed out please take a look on our website. Our message is simple: if you suspect someone has had a cardiac arrest, first call 999, and then push hard and fast in the centre of the chest. It could save someone's life.

Another alarming trend behind this week's figures is that although more people are surviving after a heart attack, many go on to develop heart failure, a debilitating disease that leaves thousands house-bound and unable to do the simplest exercise, like climb the stairs. More than three quarters of a million people in the UK live with this condition. That's why over the next 10 years we are making tackling heart failure one of our biggest priorities, through our Mending Broken Hearts Appeal.

These stats, which come from our Health Promotion Research Group based at the University of Oxford, are a cheering reminder of how far we've come, but they also show how far we have to go. We'll need all your support if we're to continue this positive trend over the next 10 years.