Covid deaths plummet in England, but dementia and heart disease remain a concern

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New Government figures show a higher than average number of deaths last month. Dementia was the biggest killer in England and heart disease in Wales. Covid deaths plummeted, however, prompting a testing expert to call for routine dementia and heart screening to match the success of the UK’s Covid testing campaign.

It’s official: Covid’s disappearance from England’s top ten list of UK killers is ‘statistically significant’, say scientists. New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show Covid was responsible for just 1.5% of all deaths in England and Wales in the week ending 16 June. It also dropped from being England’s eighth largest killer in April to 13th in May. Last month, Covid killed 785 people in England, tumbling from 1,260 deaths in April.

However, a leading testing expert says that this success shouldn’t disguise the fact that deaths for the year to date are 7.6% above average in England and up 6.5% in Wales. The leading killers are dementia/Alzheimer’s in England, and heart disease in Wales.

Leading testing expert, Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), Clinical Lead at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘We might have won the Covid battle for now, but the UK is far from winning the health war. In England, dementia/Alzheimer’s was the leading cause of death for the 23rd month in a row in May. It claimed 4,872 lives last month – that’s 97.9 lives per 100,000 people. In Wales, ischaemic (better known as coronary) heart disease was the leading cause of death for the second month. 319 people died of this generally treatable condition in Wales during May – that’s 106.8 deaths per 100,000 people.

‘There’s no doubt that the Covid screening programme during the pandemic helped reduce the virus’ spread while vaccines were developed.  Why hasn’t there been a similar effort in the face of dementia and heart disease? Dementia has been the leading killer in England for two years now, but there’s been no surge in testing. Likewise, there has been no movement similar to the UK’s Covid response to take on the potentially devastating impact of heart disease. This is despite the fact it’s such a treatable condition if caught early.

‘While coronary heart disease isn’t reversable, it’s certainly manageable. If detected in good time, lifestyle changes, medication and, if necessary, surgery significantly reduce the chances of problems such as heart attacks.

‘Similarly, the Alzheimer’s Society says timely diagnosis helps people make important decisions about treatment, support and care. Earlier diagnosis helps people with this disease live as well as possible and manage symptoms. It’s small wonder that, in a recent Alzheimer’s Society survey, three out of five people with dementia wish they had got a diagnosis sooner. 

‘That’s why the UK needs universal screening for heart disease, ideally from the age of 50 onwards, and dementia/Alzheimer’s from the age of 65.

‘Testing for ischaemic/coronary heart disease should be routine. A simple blood pressure and cholesterol level blood test can detect if heart disease is a possibility. That will lead to further tests and, if necessary, treatments.

‘Testing for dementia/Alzheimer’s is also relatively simple. A GP, or other health surgery professional, will take a personal and medical history and talk to someone who knows the patient well, if they are showing symptoms. They are also likely to perform a physical examination and undertake a cognitive assessment. Once again, blood testing is vital. This is to check for other conditions that could be causing similar symptoms, such as thyroid problems or vitamin deficiencies.

‘For both dementia and heart disease, blood testing is crucial, either in detecting high ‘bad’ cholesterol levels or in eliminating other conditions that might be mistaken for dementia/Alzheimer’s. Blood tests can help identify many conditions early, which is especially useful for diseases that are not routinely screened for yet in the UK.

‘Of course, people don’t have to wait for a doctor’s appointment to get a blood test. London Medical Laboratory’s General Health Profile blood test provides a comprehensive check-up of general health, including diabetes (HbA1c), gout, liver & kidney function, bone health, iron levels and a full cholesterol profile. It can be taken at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 95 selected pharmacies and health stores.

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