Johnny Timpson is a protection specialist at Scottish Widows
This year will mark the 50th anniversary of the first successful heart transplant led by Dr. Christiaan Barnard in Cape Town, South Africa. He modestly described the procedure as “not that great an event – certainly not in the history of medicine”, but it was a massive step and continues to attract public and professional interest half a century later. The operation is being commemorated in a TV documentary “The operation that changed the world”, and in Belgium a commemorative 5-euro coin is being minted.
A lesser-known fact is that his brother Marius Barnard, also a heart surgeon who led one of the teams which performed the first transplant, was the founder of critical illness insurance. Motivated by the financial hardship he witnessed his patients suffer, he convinced the South African insurance companies to introduce this new type of insurance and, in 1983, critical illness cover was born.
In the years that followed, it was developed by insurance companies around the world with thousands of people every year having been able to survive financially as a result of it. And heart-related disorders remain one of the biggest reasons for people to claim today.
Coronary heart disease (CHD), for example, is responsible for nearly 70,000 deaths in the UK each year, an average of 190 people each day, or one death every eight minutes, according to the British Heart Foundation. And most deaths from CHD are caused by a heart attack, with one occurring every three minutes. It’s still perceived to be a ‘man’s disease’, however, even though it kills more than twice as many women as breast cancer every year. In fact, there are more than 900,000 women in the UK living with coronary heart disease, and around eight women an hour go to hospital following a heart attack.
Heart-related disorders were the second largest cause of life cover claims at Scottish Widows in 2016, accounting for 26% of cases for men and 11% of cases for women. They were also the second largest cause of critical illness claims among men, accounting for 21%t of claims, and the third largest cause among women at 5%. We paid out more than £36m for these claims – the equivalent of around £140,000 every working day that year.
Our own research shows, however, that only a third (32%) of people in the UK have life insurance, and just one in 10 (9%) have taken out critical illness cover, emphasising their financial vulnerability in the event of the unexpected happening.
Instead, more than a third (36%) admit they’d have to dip into their savings if they found themselves in a position where they or their partner were unable to work. And one in five (21%) of households would be unable to survive financially if they unexpectedly lost their income due to long-term illness
Coronary heart disease is the UK’s single biggest killer, but advances in medicine mean that an increasing number of people are surviving conditions that previously were fatal. According to the British Heart Foundation, an estimated 915,000 people alive in the UK today have survived a heart attack, and around seven in 10 people now survive one, whereas in the 1960s seven out of heart attacks were fatal. This increases the need for critical illness cover, which can provide a lifeline to those who are recovering from an illness.
Many people believe that they’ll be able to rely on the state if illness strikes, and while this provides a basic level of support, we would firmly advise people to make their own provision for themselves and their families in order to provide peace of mind with the knowledge that there’s a financial safety net in place.