Covid Scotland: Concern over impact of pandemic amid rise in heart disease and stroke deaths

Scotland is seeing a “domino effect” of the Covid-19 pandemic on other conditions, a leading charity has said after an increase in deaths from heart disease and stroke was recorded.

The number of annual strokes in Scotland was at its highest in a decade in the year from March 2020 to March 2021, a new report from Public Health Scotland (PHS) shows.

A total of 9,352 strokes were reported, while deaths from stroke were at their highest since 2016, at 2,180, and deaths from coronary heart disease were at their highest since 2017, at 6,727.

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Death rates for men who suffer a heart attack were higher than they were in 2013, despite an overall fall in mortality rates.

Heather Paterson, 58, lives in DundeeHeather Paterson, 58, lives in Dundee
Heather Paterson, 58, lives in Dundee

At the same time, there was a drop in hospital activity, including almost 8,000 fewer hospital discharges for coronary heart disease, and the lowest number of discharges for TIAs or mini-strokes” since 2012/13.

Charity Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland (CHSS) said the figures showed proof of the worrying impact of the pandemic on other health conditions.

“These new reports confirm what we’ve long feared – the initial Covid crisis has created a dangerous domino effect on people’s health that will have serious consequences for years to come,” said chief executive Jane-Claire Judson.

She added: “More families are grieving the loss of a loved one and our services teams are seeing people who have more complex needs because their strokes or heart problems were identified later than they normally would.

“We need to learn from these figures to avoid this becoming a recurring tragedy. Covid and its impacts aren’t going away anytime soon and we need to prepare our health services to cope with surges by preventing pressures on the system.”

John Watson, Associate Director Scotland of the Stroke Association, said the figures showed the “huge impact” of stoke on health, and that those in the poorest areas are most affected.

“The need for improvements in stroke prevention, treatment and care is urgent and recognised by the Scottish Government,” he said.

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Heather Paterson, from Dundee, had two strokes in December and was discharged from hospital in March 2020.

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She urged members of the public not to ignore any signs of strong and get to hospital as quickly as possible.

Recovery from stroke during the pandemic left her feeling “alone and afraid”, she said, praising support from CHSS.

Scottish Labour said the figures should be a “wake-up call” to the government.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is good news that the rate of incidence and the number of deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke have both decreased over the last decade. In particular the mortality rates for stroke have reduced by 26 per cent over the last ten years, which is great progress.

“We continue to deliver on our 2019/20 Programme for Government commitments on stroke. In particular we have made significant progress in establishing a thrombectomy service in Scotland. Pilot services are already underway in Tayside and Lothian, with a national service expected to be fully operational by 2023.

“Our Heart Disease Action Plan sets out measures to minimise preventable heart disease and ensure those who are affected have timely and equitable access to diagnosis, treatment and care.”

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