Press Release

Ireland working with EU partners to reach heart health consensus

Working with a range of partners, the Irish Department of Health and Children is set to lead the way in discussions on cardiovascular health and to encourage European consensus on best practice for the population and high risk strategies for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. In a landmark development, Member States will be encouraged to discuss and agree for the first time a policy for promoting cardiovascular health in Europe. All this is to take place during Ireland’s Presidency of the EU.

The Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin, TD, said that cardiovascular disease has now become the biggest killer worldwide.

“In many European countries, up to 40% of people who die before the age of 74 are killed by cardiovascular disease. The Irish Presidency comes at an ideal time for the European Union to take a planned approach to reach consensus on preventing and tackling cardiovascular disease,” the Minister said.

One of the Department´s key partners, the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), already works with key medical organisations and the European Commission to develop guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention in clinical practice. The ESC has developed a “Heart Plan for Europe”, a practical plan with specific objectives to curtail the growing rates of cardiovascular disease across Europe and draw comparisons between different European countries and their standards of cardiovascular disease treatment and care.

The ESC is supporting the two key cardiovascular initiatives of the Department of Health and Children during the Irish Presidency of the EU, to reach a European consensus on the promotion of heart health across all Member States and to develop and coordinate a protocol on the type of data collected on coronary care patients.

Professor Jean-Pierre Bassand, President of the European Society of Cardiology, has praised the Irish Government for prioritising cardiovascular health during its Presidency.

“With the accession of ten new Member States, the Irish Presidency comes at an opportune time to promote cardiovascular health and agreeing on preventative measures on a pan European scale. Recent research has shown that 60% to 70% of cardiovascular disease can be delayed or prevented through lifestyle changes and better use of medicines”.

“The ESC encourages countries to set goals, such as a reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease by 40% in people under 65 years of age by 2020” Professor Bassand said.

The ESC leads the field in European cardiovascular research. Its 1999/2000 heart survey, EUROASPIRE II assessed 8,181 medical records and 5,556 coronary patients in 15 countries (Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom), giving crucial insight into European discrepancies.

“Other studies revealed marked differences in incidence across Europe, revealing cardiovascular disease death rates as highest among the Eastern and Central European countries and lowest in Mediterranean countries including France and Spain,” said Professor Bassand.

“Where you live in Europe should not determine your risk of suffering from heart disease and the length or quality of your life. Setting a European-wide consensus on risk factor targets, cardiovascular disease prevention initiatives and standards of cardiology practice, and working with European governments to roll out these standards, will establish a more homogenous approach to cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment across Europe,” continued Professor Bassand.

“If agreed targets can be implemented across all European nations, they will have a direct impact on cardiovascular disease rates, reducing both morbidity and mortality. Individual members of the public and their medical practitioners need to be given specific goals for which to strive.”

“Telling someone they should eat more healthily, stop smoking and take more exercise is all very well, but people need to understand that there are specific targets in mind that they should set out to achieve,” he explained.

The ESC works to improve the quality of life of the European population by reducing the impact of cardiovascular disease. Comprising 47 National Societies and more than 45,000 members across these countries, the ESC is committed to the prevention, detection and management of cardiovascular disease, promoting training and continuous professional development, setting guidelines on clinical practice, and advising public and health authorities on cardiovascular disease.

The Irish Department of Health and Children will work closely with the European Society of Cardiology, European Heart Network and the Irish Cardiac Society to develop two major initiatives that could affect the cardiovascular health of all Member States nations in the future.

Promoting Heart Health, A European Consensus, which is being organised by the Health Promotion Unit at the Department of Health and Children, will take place in Cork on the 25th and the 26th February, 2004. The aim is to reach an EU agreement on the factors that increase the risk of CVD, the health behaviours that reduce risk and the strategies to prevent CVD and promote heart health on an individual, governmental, sectoral and European basis for the future.

The second conference; Cardiovascular Audit and Registration Data Standards (CARDS) will also take place in Cork, on the 10th and 11th May, 2004. This initiative involves a close partnership with the European Society of Cardiology to agree and standardise the type of patient information to be collected in databases on coronary heart disease, which could be used by all Member States. CARDS represents a further initiative which has not been attempted before in a European context and which is expected to make a major contribution to European health planning. Analysis of the data will allow each region or country to identify trends in the treatment of heart attack and in procedures to treat coronary artery disease.

The Presidency affords Ireland the opportunity to take the lead in developing an EU strategy, which will affect the cardiovascular health of all Member States nations. The Department of Health and Children hopes to develop an achievable framework for Europe and use its experience, and the experience of other Member States, in tackling cardiovascular disease, Europe´s biggest killer.