Millions needed to fund the continuing effort to beat Scotland’s – and the world’s – biggest health threat, writes James Cant
As we approach World Heart Day on 29 September, it’s important to remember that heart and circulatory disease isn’t just a killer in Scotland. It’s also the leading cause of death and disability in the world today. That’s why the BHF is currently investing £58 million in research in Scottish universities.
The last 50 years have brought enormous progress for people with heart and circulatory disease. Children survive into adulthood with conditions that used to be a death sentence, we can screen for and combat rare and dangerous conditions, and the majority of people now survive heart attacks.
Underpinning these improvements is one common theme – research. It’s our world-leading science that allows us to understand heart disease better, diagnose it earlier and treat it more effectively.
However, we have much further to go. Across Scotland, around 20 working age adults still die every week from heart attacks and an estimated 54,000 people are living with heart failure, an incurable and often debilitating condition.
At the BHF we believe that this is unacceptable and we will continue to fund research that helps save and improve the lives of heart patients. But we cannot do this alone.
Research funding is expensive and complex, with UK science supported by a network of funders, including government, the third sector and industry. Each must do their part and if one steps away, the others cannot fill the gap.
Some funding schemes – for example, the Scottish Funding Council – come from Scottish Government budgets, but decisions being made at a UK level still have a critical impact on Scottish researchers. In particular, the Medical Research Council, a crucial partner for the BHF, works across the UK.
The career of David Newby, our BHF Professor of Cardiology at the University of Edinburgh, illustrates the wide range of funding sources our researchers draw on. As well as the BHF, Professor Newby has attracted investment from funding schemes based in Scotland, across the UK and at EU level. It has been this combination which has allowed him to pursue his cutting-edge work on heart attacks and heart failure.
On 22 November, the UK government will make a decision which will impact on researchers across the four nations. Since 2010, the science budget has been frozen. While providing a welcome stability, given inflation, this has also led to a significant erosion of the actual value of science spend. That is why BHF is calling on the UK government to commit to a maintenance of the science budget in real terms at the next Spending Review.
Across the UK, the BHF spends around £100m every year on new life-saving research, and we’re currently investing a total of around £58m in Scotland. But we need government to play its part. We must work together to ensure that our scientists are given the funding they need to continue their life saving research.
You can mark this month’s World Heart Day by joining the fight against heart disease. E-mail your MP and ask them to support the BHF campaign to protect research and save lives – find out more at bhf.org.uk/get-involved/campaigning
• James Cant, director, British Heart Foundation Scotland