Highlands and Islands MSP highlights inaccessible treatment for heart valve disease

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, told MSPs that treatment options were all too often inaccessible for many of those affected by heart valve disease.

Mr Stewart was leading a member’s debate to mark Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week in the Scottish Parliament today (Wed Sept 23) to raise awareness of symptoms drawing attention to better diagnosis and treatment options.

He said:  “There were only 1,117 valve surgeries for people over 65 performed in Scotland in the 2018-19, treating less than 1% of heart valve disease patients.

“One such treatment, transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI), avoids the need for high-risk and compromising open heart surgery but is only available in selected Scottish hospitals:  Golden Jubilee National Hospital, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where access is capped to less than 400 procedures per year.

“In my own region of the Highlands and Islands, constituents may have to travel over 200 miles to get treatment, and this only exemplifies the inequities in access that mark heart valve disease treatment in Scotland nationally. Perhaps, a case of geographic inequality.”

Mr Stewart gave thanks to patient charity, Heart Valve Voice, for their efforts in the debate and for their combined work with Global Heart Hub and other charities in raising awareness across the UK.

Mr Stewart, who is also Scottish Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, explained that the issues in diagnosis and treatment have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and that thousands of routine heart check-ups have been missed and scores of people with life-threatening conditions may still be undiagnosed.

Heart valve disease is a debilitating condition that causes functional cardiovascular decline and leads to premature deaths, if left untreated.  It is caused by wear, disease or damage to one or more of the valves affecting the flow of blood through the heart.  For some people, heart valve disease can progress very slowly and with unspecific symptoms, however if left untreated it can be serious.  Symptoms of heart valve disease include tiredness under exertion, breathlessness, and dizziness.

He said: “Heart valve disease is more prevalent in older people, with approximately 130,000 Scots over the age of 65 living with moderate or severe heart valve disease.  Despite this, diagnosis is poor and treatment options are limited.

“Heart valve disease can be detected through a simple stethoscope check.  However, nearly 80% of people age 60 and over report rarely or never being checked with a stethoscope by their GP.  The result of which is a reduction in early diagnosis and proactive interventions that can be both life-saving and more cost-effective to the NHS.”