15 February 2018
Innovative new technology will be rolled out across the Wessex region (Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Isle of Wight) to prevent 160 strokes and save 40 lives, as part of a national campaign launched today (Thursday, 15 February).
Around 340 mobile electrocardiogram (ECG) units are being distributed to CCGs, GP practices, pharmacies, NHS community clinics and hospitals across the Wessex region. The new devices detect irregular heart rhythms quickly and easily, enabling NHS staff to refer any patients with irregular heart rhythms (called Atrial Fibrillation) for follow-up as they could be at risk of severe stroke. Experts estimate that more than 420,000 people across England have undiagnosed irregular heart rhythm, which can cause stroke if not detected and treated appropriately, usually through anticoagulation medicines - sometimes called blood-thinning medication - to prevent clots that lead to stroke.
The roll-out is being unveiled during National Heart Month, which raises awareness of heart conditions and encourages everyone to make small changes towards a healthier lifestyle.
The new technology includes a smartphone-linked device that works via an app. Small and easy-to-use, NHS staff can also take the devices on home visits to patients to check for irregular heart rhythms.
The new technology will allow more staff in more settings to quickly and easily conduct pulse checks. The new mobile devices provide a far more sensitive and specific pulse check than a manual check and this reduces costly and unnecessary 12 lead ECGs to confirm diagnosis. As a result, the project is expected to identify 5,600 new cases of irregular heart rhythms (known as Atrial Fibrillation) over two years, which could prevent up to 160 strokes and save £3.6 million in associated health and costs.
The devices are being rolled out by the 15 Academic Health Science Networks, in the first six months of this year as part of an NHS England-funded project.
The clinical lead for stroke for Wessex Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), Sharron Gordon, Clinical Advisor said: “More than 18,500 of people in Wessex region may not have any symptoms of an irregular heart rhythms and are unaware of the dangers that this can pose to their health. That is why pulse checking is so important particularly if you are over 65 years where this abnormal rhythm is more common. We have highly effective treatments that can reduce the risk of these strokes, but early detection is key. Using cost-effective technology, the NHS will now be able to identify people with irregular heart rhythms quickly and easily. This will save lives.
“As the NHS approaches its 70th birthday this year, this is also a great reminder of the way that healthcare is continually evolving and innovating. Taking advantage of digital health solutions will be even more important for the next 70 years. Today’s new devices are just one example of the way that low-cost tech has the potential to make a huge difference.”
Professor Stephen Powis, Medical Director of NHS England, said: “Cardiovascular disease kills more people in this country than anything else, but there are steps we can all take to prevent it. These innovations have enormous potential to prevent thousands of strokes each year, which is why NHS England has committed to funding the roll-out of 6,000 mobile ECG devices to help identify cases of atrial fibrillation so behaviours can be changed and treatment started before strokes occur.
“We are also encouraging people, during National Heart Month, to learn how to check their own pulse so we can catch even more cases.”
One million people in the UK are known to be affected by AF and an additional 422,600 people are undiagnosed. As the most common type of irregular heart rhythm, it is responsible for approximately 20% of all strokes. Survivors must live with the disabling consequences and treating the condition costs the NHS over £2.2 billion each year.
Every February is National Heart Month. This year the BHF is encouraging everyone to make small changes towards a healthier lifestyle.
The public are also encouraged to spread the word about irregular heart rhythms and urge friends and family – particularly those aged over 65 – to check their pulse and see a GP if it is irregular. Pulse checks can be done manually (a British Heart Foundation video and guide shows how here) or through new technology, with irregular rhythms investigated further by healthcare professionals.
The hashtag being used to help raise awareness is #KnowYourPulse