Severe lack of funding for heart disease research revealed

Urgent annual cash injection of £650m needed for cardiovascular conditions to match threat to nation’s health of cancer

A rendering of the human heart.




A rendering of the human heart.
Photograph: DecaStock/Alamy

A severe deficit has emerged in the funding of major health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and mental health, according to a new study calling for an urgent cash injection.

While an estimated £29 per person is invested in cancer research each year, only half as much is spent on neurological and mental health, and just £9 per person goes to cardiovascular disease research and development, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and health management consultancy CF.

The disparity comes despite the fact that the three conditions have a broadly similar impact on the nation’s overall health, the study stated. Bringing cardiovascular investment up to match its relative threat to the nation’s health would require an extra £650m per year. For neurological and mental health conditions, the extra investment required amounts to £350m a year.

The study warns that the Covid-19 crisis has intensified the underfunding, as the pandemic has had an impact on these conditions. A recent survey by the charity Mind found that 65% of people with an existing mental health condition felt it had become worse during lockdown. Meanwhile, NHS performance data showed drops of 50% in people presenting with a suspected heart attack because of Covid-19 concerns during the pandemic’s peak.

BHF (the British Heart Foundation) says this puts people at risk of long-term heart damage that could later need intensive care or prove fatal. Researchers also warned that the medical charities who contributed huge quantities to research into the conditions had been hit hard by the pandemic’s economic fallout.

Chris Thomas, a senior research fellow at IPPR, said: “The response from the research community when Covid-19 hit was really good. We saw a really collaborative effort from government, academia, from global businesses – from a whole host of people pushing. But we do have to reflect on what things were like beforehand.

“The UK wasn’t spending very much on research and development – not nearly as much as it should be. We know that its global position was under threat because of that. We can wonder what would have been had research and development been stronger. Medical research charities that do a lot of this work are really struggling.

“Things are pretty bad across the board,” he added. “It’s always surprising just how much of the UK’s research spend comes from the charity sector. If the government isn’t coming in and helping out in some of these conditions, then you really do wonder who will be.”

The government has recently set out plans to increase overall spending on research and development of all kinds as part of a campaign to become a “science superpower”. It includes a pledge to increase public investment in research and development to £22bn by 2024/25.