The impact of heart disease is up close and personal for key politicians today throwing their support behind a national screening program.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten’s father suffered a fatal heart attack; the brother of his health spokeswoman Catherine King is currently recovering from a heart attack; and Health Minister Greg Hunt’s uncle was also stricken by the condition.

Ms King — whose father needed a triple bypass at age 59 — says she recently completed the Heart Foundation’s Heart Age Calculator and found that her heart age was slightly older than her actual age.

“You don’t think these things are going to happen to you but when you see the statistics you see how many people are affected by heart disease,” she said. “Heart health is one area that is most underfunded, we need to fund prevention.”

Her brother Michael, a 62-year-old former PE teacher, suffered a heart attack thirty days ago. He told News Corp after leaving teaching to become a consultant he had put on some weight and was being treated for high cholesterol but was still walking 10,000 to 15,000 steps per day.

Late last month he was in his Melbourne office reviewing a report when he felt major pain in his chest, started to sweat and felt his arm become sore.

Trained in first aid and CPR he recognised the symptoms of a heart attack and headed straight for the GP clinic across the road where they gave him immediate treatment, putting nitrate drugs under his tongue, giving him oxygen, an injection and hooked him to an ECG machine.

An ambulance arrived within minutes and shortly after he was in the catheterization lab at The Alfred Hospital where they discovered his immediate treatment had cleared the blockage and he did not need surgery.

“Now I know the error of my ways,” said Mr King, who lost ten kilograms in 28 days, reduced his food portions and increased his exercise regimen.

Mr Hunt revealed this week his energetic and fit Uncle David had a significant heart attack 20 years ago.

“My Uncle David, a very fit and energetic man in his early 60s, while he thought he was extremely fit, had a significant heart attack,” Mr Hunt said.

“He survived thanks to the magnificent skill of our doctors and our nurses and he is, in many ways, a poster child … for secondary care after a heart attack,” the minister said.

Mr Hunt says his uncle changed his lifestyle to “stop ageing” and now walks, does strength work and follows the advice of his cardiologist.

As Australia’s leading cause of death, heart disease was a “profound national challenge”, Mr Hunt said.

In this political climate it is rare to get different sides to agree on anything — so the decision of both major political parties to support Medicare funding for a heart health check is a welcome and vital first step in fighting heart disease, Australia’s leading cause of death.

Now we need to make sure doctors carry out these check-ups and that people are encouraged to ask for them.

New Zealand introduced a heart health check in 2012 and by 2016 nine in ten of those eligible had been checked.

This was because GPs were given a government payment when they reached a target of 90 per cent coverage.

Health Minister Greg Hunt says the government’s Medicare Benefits Schedule taskforce will continue to refine the new heart health check Medicare item number and it would do well to learn from the experience across the Tasman.

Having a dedicated Medicare item number for a heart health check will provide a neat way of monitoring how many Australians have had their ticker run under the microscope.

Like New Zealand we should be aiming to have 90 per cent of those at risk completing the test.

Our YouGov Galaxy survey found as few as one in five people have ever had a discussion with their doctors about their heart disease risk — and that’s not good enough when it is our leading cause of death.

Identifying those at risk and preventing them from having a heart attack is crucial but there is even more to do.

We also need to improve funding for rehabilitation care once a person has had a heart attack. More than 500,000 hospitalisations every year are for people having a second heart attack.

Better access to cardiac rehabilitation care would help stop that and we need funding for new medical guidelines, diet and exercise and tobacco control.