In recent decades, the story of cardiovascular disease is one of significant neglect. Many of the largest European economies have no strategic plan for heart health. This is deeply concerning as more than 60 million people in the European Union (EU) live with cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death and sickness. Patient outcomes and quality of care have stagnated in this vacuum, characterised by insufficient research funding and low uptake of innovative care models.
Although tragic, the COVID-19 pandemic may have left us with one useful insight: a recognition that resilience and sustainability for the future are likely impossible without a complete overhaul of society’s stake in our health. Resilience and sustainability have many dimensions, but in the COVID-19 era, one of the most important is our populations’ cardiovascular health. As we explored in our recent Heart Failure Policy Network (HFPN) report on heart failure and COVID-19, the linkages between the pandemic and heart failure are a cause of serious concern. The pandemic has highlighted our healthcare systems’ existing weaknesses, most notably in cardiovascular care. Post-COVID-19, we must ensure that cardiovascular risk factors are appropriately managed and that healthcare teams can maintain good prevention and care standards in the face of adversity.
The European Commission has recently published Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. It represents one of the most ambitious efforts to coordinate and leverage EU-level competencies in health. It aims to support member states by prioritising technology, research and innovation to improve the prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. And it forms part of the Commission’s proposals for a strong European Health Union to ensure a more secure, resilient and better-prepared EU.
It is very timely that a group of MEPs interested in heart health has called for a similar prioritisation of cardiovascular disease by the EU. We echo this sentiment and call on the European Commission to take such an approach to cardiovascular disease to reduce its ever-growing burden and help build health system resilience.
A cardiovascular disease plan from the European Commission is unlikely to materialise for some time to come, with the cancer plan having taken years of foundational work and stakeholder consultations. Cardiovascular disease and heart failure advocates should therefore engage with the Commission’s ongoing work, including the European Health Data Space, EU projects on integrated care models and consultation activities for the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe. Here at the HFPN, we will continue to project the case for change in heart failure and cardiovascular disease.
The European Commission has also published its recovery plan for Europe, to repair the economic and social damage caused by COVID-19 and lay the foundation for a more modern and sustainable EU. Consideration of heart failure, and cardiovascular disease more broadly, is essential for the EU’s economic recovery process. The burden of cardiovascular disease on our economies and healthcare systems is growing, and is likely to have been exacerbated by the devastating impact of COVID-19.
We will continue to support national advocates across Europe to project a strong case for change in heart failure to decision-makers who have been tasked with sustainability goals, such as reducing hospitalisations and investing in more robust and adaptable systems of care. As the leading cause of unplanned hospital admissions – and with one of the most vulnerable populations at risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms – heart failure should be an integral concern for any resilience strategy.
Time and time again, we see that those who truly change their local systems are not only clinical or patient leaders but also change visionaries, able to build alliances across different sectors and win the case for investment. We need far more of them in heart failure, and so do our governments.
This year, the HFPN will launch an online Heart Failure Policy Trailblazers Hub, which will showcase inspirational individuals, teams and projects in heart failure system transformation and political advocacy. We will help high-level national heart failure leaders in their approaches to policymakers, leveraging the findings from our 2020 report Heart failure policy and practice in Europe. We will also host the first annual heart failure leadership and policy summit in November 2021, which will raise the profile of key innovators and help disseminate the main lessons they have to offer.
We will play our part in the evolving EU cardiovascular disease debate and launch a European Call to Action on heart failure, working with MEPs to increase scrutiny within the European Parliament. We hope this will help to guide the Commission’s efforts to make the best use of learning and solutions in heart failure to drive resilience goals.