Britain still tops European heart disease league of Europe

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GOVERNMENT HOPES of improving the United Kingdom's dismal standing in the European heart-disease league are doomed, a report shows.

The UK lags so far behind its continental neighbours on heart disease and breast cancer deaths that it is unlikely to catch up. Even if the Government hit its targets for cutting deaths from heart disease, Britain would still be at the back of the field, experts said.

Figures yesterday from the Office of Health Economics (OHE), a think- tank funded by the pharmaceutical industry, show that Britain has among the worst death rates from heart disease and breast cancer in the Western world.

The death rate for heart disease in England and Wales, at 230 per 100,000 population aged 45 to 64, was (around 1995) more than twice that in France and Italy and for breast cancer, at 48 per 100,000, it was one-third higher than in the United States and Canada.

Under the Government's public-health strategy in the White Paper Saving Lives: our healthier nation, published last month, targets were set for cutting heart disease by 40 per cent and all cancers by 20 per cent by 2010 in people under 75.

But a 40 per cent cut in the heart-disease rate for England and Wales would still leave the country with a death rate well above that for Germany, Canada, Australia and Italy.

Peter Yuen, author of the OHE Compendium of Health Statistics, said: "Even if we achieve the target in 10 years, the other countries will have moved on and we will never catch up."

For breast cancer, Britain's death rate among women aged 35 to 64 "is among the highest in the developed world", the report says. Despite medical advances in treatment in recent decades it says the death rate has changed little in England and Wales and Scotland since 1960 and has "worsened considerably" in Northern Ireland.

Over the past 25 years, National Health Service spending per head of population has more than doubled in real terms, from pounds 378 in 1973 to pounds 815 in 1998, at today's prices. Total spending on health has risen to pounds 56bn, including pounds 8bn in the private sector, a rise from 4.6 to 6.7 per cent of gross domestic product since 1973. Britain still has one of the least expensive health systems in the world.

"If we were to raise our spending to the level of the Germans at 10.4 per cent of GDP we would have an extra pounds 28bn," Mr Yuen said. "But where we would we find the money?"

Total spending per head, on NHS and private care in the UK reached pounds 889 in 1997, compared with pounds 2,497 in the US, pounds 1,643 in Germany and pounds 1,433 in France.