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Is there a silent killer in your organisation?

  • 5 Min Read

Heart and circulatory diseases kill more than one in four and cause 460 deaths each day in the UK. What can people leaders do to stop the silent killer? John Norton, Head of Workplace Wellbeing, British Heart Foundation, tells you what can be done to battle heart and circulatory diseases at work.

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Investing in Workplace Health to help save lives

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is funding more than £100 million of research each year into heart and circulatory diseases and the risk factors that can cause them. Heart diseases, stroke and vascular dementia are connected by our research. Heart and circulatory diseases can stop our heart from pumping and our blood from flowing properly. They can have the same risk factors and one can lead to the other.  That’s why our research starts with your heart, but it doesn’t stop there.  Heart and circulatory diseases kill more than one in four and cause 460 deaths each day in the UK, resulting in heartbreak for too many families.  In addition, the total annual healthcare cost of heart and circulatory disease in the UK is £9 billion, with over 7 million people living with heart and circulatory diseases in the UK.  That’s why our work is as urgent and vital as ever.

BHF-funded researchers have been finding out more about the risk factors, such as high blood pressure and raised cholesterol, which can cause heart and circulatory diseases.  As a result of this research, BHF Health at Work programme was created and focused on supporting organisations to detect risk factors present in their staff and provide information on how to best control them, based on the research evidence.

When an employee suffers a heart attack or stroke and needs to have time off work to recover (physically, emotionally and psychologically) that has a damaging effect on the organisation.  Because of this, more and more organisations believe that their duty of care includes a need to provide staff easy access to a health check provided by a trusted organisation as a valued employee benefit.  Five-year versus risk-category specific screening intervals for cardiovascular disease prevention: A cohort study, published in the Lancet in April 2019, found that nearly one in 12 heart attacks and strokes in England and Wales could be prevented by targeted, routine check-ups.

Commenting on this Lancet study the BHF Medical Director, Professor Sir Nilesh Samani said “If you know you’re at higher risk of developing heart and circulatory disease, it’s really important to attend regular health checks to help manage your risk factors to prevent problems later in life.”  Some organisations are choosing to invest in their staff by providing heart health checks in the workplace as an employee benefit.  They believe this can help lead to higher staff engagement, improved resilience and retention of talent.  Organisations also are seeing the value of employees being able to know their chances of a heart attack or stroke can be estimated by looking at risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood-sugar levels, age, family history and if a person smokes.

High blood pressure often has no symptoms, which is why many people do not know that they have it. For this reason, it is sometimes called the silent killer. The only way to know is to have it measured, usually using a machine with a cuff that goes around your arm.  The British Heart Foundation’s Healthcare Intelligence Team has commented on research that has found there are four million people under the age of 65 believed to be living with untreated high blood pressure which includes 1.3million people under the age of 45.  High blood pressure can affect anyone, but the high-risk groups are people with a family history of the condition and those with diabetes, kidney disease and heart disease.  If untreated, high blood pressure can significantly raise the risk of heart attack and stroke – and is also linked with an increased risk of vascular dementia.

The British Heart Foundation’s health at work programme has been implemented by well-known organisations, ranging from financial institutions to multi-national retailers, to deliver on-site health checks, including the detection of potential high blood pressure amongst their staff.  Our health at work team and health practitioners are qualified to provide you with the information that can help your staff to understand, manage and control the major risk factors which for many remain undetected.

The BHF wants to see a world in which the healthy choice is the easy choice.  Health surveys show that 28% of adults in the UK are obese and around half of UK adults have raised cholesterol.  Obesity is a major risk factor for heart and circulatory disease.  Many of us live in environments that encourage unhealthy diets and discourage physical activity.  By working with government, industry and the public, the BHF is seeking to create an environment that makes living a healthy lifestyle easy and for a world free from the fear of heart and circulatory diseases.

On 5th February 2020 at HRD Summit, Kerry Smith, People and Organisational Development Director for the British Heart Foundation will be speaking on connecting Health and Wellbeing with strategic business decisions – looking at the facts and statistics that make wellbeing a business imperative as well as maintaining the human side of work.


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