My 65th birthday is approaching with the speed of a supercharged Zimmer Frame. It is no longer just around the corner, it is down the street, leaning against the lamp-post with a malevolent grin on its face. As some kind of early birthday present from my doctor, I received a letter from the Surgery the other day saying that there was a fair old chance that I would be dead soon. To be precise, a 26.8% chance that cardiovascular disease would strike me down in the next ten years.
This level of precision results from a new Government initiative to test people over the age of 50 based on something called a QRISK Algorithm. My blood pressure had been tested, my cholesterol had been calculated, my height and mass had been surveyed and my medical history had been recorded - and all that information was fed into a computer and out popped my mortality coefficient (or whatever they want to call it). As it is above 20%, I am invited to make an appointment with my doctor, who will no doubt suggest swallowing Statins for the few months and years I have left, enter a new loving relationship with pulses and organic beans, and avoid alcohol with the fervour of a Salvationist. It is all rather depressing.
After a couple of days of despondency, a thought struck me whilst I was sipping my pea and watercress smoothie (well, it was whilst eating a plate of chips, actually, but don't tell the doctor). The one piece of information missing from the results print-out was what is the average chance of contracting cardiovascular disease for a 65 year old man in Britain. I eventually tracked down the answer to this question in an article in the British Medical Journal ("Predicting cardiovascular risk in England and Wales: prospective derivation and validation of QRISK2", Hippisley-Cox et al. BMJ 2008;336:a332 doi:10.1136/bmj.39609.449676.25), and surprise, surprise, it turns out to be 29.44.
In an attempt to double check my findings - which turned the message in the letter upside down and now suggested that I could walk off into the sunset of my life with the spring in my step of a lithe teenager - I managed to track down an on-line QRISK calculator. When I fed the various bits of information into this it calculated that my risk of popping my clogs due to cardiovascular disease during the next 10 years was 15.6%, which was once again less than the chances of a typical person of my age, sex and ethnicity. It is all rather satisfying. Now pass me that piece of chocolate cake and that glass of Malt Whisky.