Let’s finally beat heartbreak forever in the UK - James Jopling

I was delighted to join the British Heart Foundation (BHF) team in January 2020. I knew about the amazing progress made to tackle heart and circulatory diseases – much thanks to BHF-funded research – but also the devastation these conditions cause, and I was looking forward to the challenge of helping beat heartbreak in Scotland. Then came a year nobody expected. But thanks to medical research, we can anticipate to a brighter 2021.

James Jopling, Head of BHF Scotland
James Jopling, Head of BHF Scotland

The innovation and determination that’s gone into developing vaccines for Covid-19 means we end this year with a sense of hope.

Many things will still be very different next year. We’re a long way from understanding the full impacts of the pandemic. We don’t know the longer-term health issues that Covid-19 may cause for people with heart and circulatory diseases. Medical research will help answer these questions too, like the BHF-funded work of Professor Marc Dweck at the University of Edinburgh, whose recent study found that half of Covid-19 patients who received a heart scan in hospital showed abnormalities in heart function.

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We can be sure that some of the changes we’ve seen to health services will remain. Fewer face-to-face appointments required a rapid shift to digital services, with some notable successes, including our online Cardiac Rehabilitation at Home resource for people who can’t get to a class.

The way we raise money has changed too, with many fundraising events cancelled for the foreseeable future, but alternatives like virtual Kiltwalks help fill the gap. I’ve been repeatedly amazed by the creativity and ingenuity of our supporters, like 12-year-old Emily Bain who swam 21 miles in a pool in her garden to fundraise in memory of her grandad.

Of course, it’s research that’s at the heart of what we do. The BHF currently funds 111 research projects and 350 scientists in Scotland alone, but the impact of Covid-19 means we project we’ll need to halve our annual research budget from around £100 million to £50 million.

These are big numbers, but they reflect the scale of the challenge. Around 720,000 people across Scotland are affected by heart and circulatory conditions and ultimately, they and others will suffer as research progress slows. We will overcome Covid-19, but heart and circulatory diseases will remain a huge burden in 2021 and beyond.

The new year also sees a Scottish election in May, and we’re working to understand what people with heart and circulatory conditions need and want from the new administration – we’ll share more information on that in the coming weeks.

Finally, 2021 sees the BHF turn 60. Since the charity’s launch in 1961, our supporters have helped advance the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of many heart and circulatory diseases. Today our work is needed more than ever, and significant challenges lie ahead, many of them unforeseeable just a few months ago. But with flexibility, creativity and our wonderful supporters, we can come together to fulfil our vision of a world free from the fear of heart and circulatory diseases, where we’ve finally beaten heartbreak forever.

James Jopling, Head of BHF Scotland

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