HC Deb 22 February 1996 vol 272 cc483-4
5. Mr. Simon Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on progress in reducing the incidence of coronary heart disease in the Province. [15022]

Mr. Moss

Over the past 10 years, premature deaths from coronary heart disease in Northern Ireland have fallen by 33 per cent.

Mr. Coombs

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, between 1985 and 1994, the number of deaths from premature coronary heart disease fell from 1,056 to 703? Does he agree that much of the credit for that should go to the change of heart programme, which was set up in 1986 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King)? Nevertheless, does my hon. Friend recognise that the level of heart disease in Northern Ireland remains among the highest in the world? What further plans does he have to research the reasons for that high incidence of heart disease and to promote better dietary and other habits to reduce those figures further still?

Mr. Moss

As my hon. Friend says, that reduction is one of the great achievements of the health service in Northern Ireland over the past decade and more. The change of heart programme was established in 1986 and set a target of a 15 per cent. reduction, which we achieved within five years. We have now set more challenging targets, of about a 40 per cent. reduction by the turn of the century. As for attacking the problem of a regional health strategy for health and social services, we have set a target to increase the number of cardiac operations in Northern Ireland by about 1,200 in the coming years. We have reached that target in the past two years, and we hope to do more in the future.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does the Minister accept that a change in diet and habits is needed—rather than the change of heart to which he referred in relation to surgical operations—which has been achieved by the Chest, Heart and Stroke Association's campaign? Is it not wrong for advertisers, particularly tobacco advertisers, to try to lure children into that habit, which has an adverse effect on children's hearts?

Mr. Moss

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments, and I acknowledge the work that has been done by the society that he mentioned. The change of heart programme tackled the main risk factors of smoking, raised blood pressure, cholesterol and physical inactivity. The Health Promotion Agency in Northern Ireland manages the change of heart programme and spends about one third of its £1.3 million budget on resources to tackle the risk factors associated with heart disease. The agency's efforts are complemented locally by the health promotion work of the health and social services boards and trusts and by general practitioners. New Province-wide strategies on food, nutrition and physical activity are being developed.

Mr. McGrady

Despite the good news about trends that the Minister has delivered to the House, is he aware of the very alarming instruction issued by the director of the Royal Victoria hospital to consultant cardiac surgeons that they should not perform any further cardiac surgery except in cases of extreme emergency or when patients are referred to them by a fundholding general practitioner in the entire area of the Eastern and Northern health board? Is that not very discriminatory, and what action does he intend to take to ensure that my constituents, particularly those with cardiac conditions, get an equal deal in health care?

Mr. Moss

I am not aware of the details of the hon. Gentleman's question, but, if he will write to me, I shall certainly look into the matter for him. I repeat that the regional strategy sets a target for increasing the number of cardiac operations in Northern Ireland from only 700 in 1990 to 1,100 by 1993. That target has since increased. We have appointed two additional cardiac surgeons at the Royal Victoria hospital in the past three years, and we intend to tackle the problem head on in the future.

Mr. Fabricant

Has my hon. Friend seen the research work undertaken by Professor Alan Howard of Cambridge university that states that drinking a glass of red wine a day helps to alleviate heart disease? Will he encourage all the excellent hostelries throughout Northern Ireland—in Belfast and Bangor—many of which I am personally familiar with, to sell not only the excellent stout produced in the island of Ireland but red wine?

Mr. Moss

My hon. Friend will have to wait until the new licensing laws are announced, which I hope to do in the near future.

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