Needed: A strategy to help 15 million hearts in Europe

EPA/MAREK ZAKRZEWSKI

Doctors from the University Hospital of Lord’s Transfiguration in Poznan Cardiology Clinic implant the world’s smallest artificial cardiac pacemaker in heart of a patient during a surgery in the Hospital in Poznan, Poland, 22 January 2016. 

Needed: A strategy to help 15 million hearts in Europe


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Heart failure is an often forgotten chronic condition that desperately needs policy makers’ attention across Europe. Statistically, 1 in 5 of us risk developing heart failure in our lifetimes, and currently, the condition affects 15 million Europeans. Yet, awareness of the symptoms is worryingly low. For example, only 3% of the general public can correctly identify all three ‘red flag’ symptoms (extreme breathlessness, fatigue and swollen ankles).

Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. It has a wide variety of causes, including high blood pressure, existing heart problems and diabetes. Heart failure is incurable, but many cases can be prevented, and for those living with heart failure, much can be done to avoid crisis and hospitalisation.

Heart failure presents an immense social and economic burden across Europe, and numbers will rise in future – by some 25% by 2030, without concerted action. Today, heart failure is already the greatest cause of hospitalisation in those over 65.

Few Member State governments have adopted national plans for heart failure, despite its central relevance to health and sustainable healthcare systems. Major inequalities persist across Europe and many patients still do not receive high quality care based upon recognised clinical guidelines. Political leadership and oversight is often poor, or held back by inadequate data and limited knowledge of true costs.

Heart failure is clearly a pan-European issue which urgently needs concerted action after decades of neglect. This year’s European Health Forum Gastein brought together European policy-makers to discuss “Demographics and Diversity in Europe – New Solutions for Health” but heart failure, which affects 15 million European, was not officially discussed. We need to put heart failure firmly on the agenda, and develop forward-thinking strategies.

On 19 October, I will be joined by MEPs from across the political spectrum to launch a new Written Declaration on Heart Failure. Together with Dr Cristian-Silviu Bușoi, Aldo Patriciello, Sirpa Pietikäinen, Dr Ian Duncan, Marc Tarabella, Victor Negrescu, Miriam Dalli, Nicola Caputo, Daciana Sarbu, Karin Kadenbach, Nessa Childers and Dr Andrey Kovatchev and in cooperation with the Heart Failure Policy Network, we will be calling on the European Commission to support Member States in tackling heart failure, not least:

1. We must encourage comprehensive national plans on heart failure, which are key to drive improvements and greater political oversight of the condition, especially in ensuring adequate data collection;

2. We need an EU-wide strategy that will support public awareness campaigns, patient advocacy as well as exchanges of research and best practice in tackling heart failure;

3. The EU must also do more to support training on heart failure among healthcare professionals, such as GPs and internists. Heart failure specialisation and accreditation of training for nurses and allied health professionals is also vital.

Many Written Declarations focused on specific diseases have been launched in the past. I agreed to lead on this particular Declaration because I’m convinced that heart failure is an area where Europe needs to work together better, because patients and healthcare professionals believe this Declaration is a unique and powerful moment to bring heart failure to the fore, and because success in addressing heart failure will also have significant benefits for all cardiovascular diseases across Europe.

“Concerted action and greater awareness of heart failure is beneficial for the health of all Europeans. Early detection of the condition is essential. Yet I see friends and family members who ignored the signs and symptoms of heart failure for too long – delaying effective treatment. What would they tell you? To make sure you know the symptoms of heart failure, and if you recognize them take action immediately! Do not take your heart for granted.” – Annie Schreijer-Pierik, MEP

Heart failure is a condition that Europe cannot afford to ignore and the EU has an important role to play in supporting Member States to address it. Improving the lives of 15 million EU citizens should not be allowed to pass by.

Statistically 150 of all MEPs today are at risk developing heart failure. So I urge all Members to sign the Written Declaration to help the millions of heart failure sufferers gain the comprehensive care and support that they urgently need and prevent the condition in millions more.

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