New tech aims to prevent 70 strokes in the South West

The South West Academic Health Science Network (SW AHSN) is distributing around 250 new mobile electrocardiogram (ECG) devices to GP practices, community teams and other healthcare practitioners across the NHS in the South West. The new devices will allow NHS staff to detect irregular heart rhythms quickly and easily, enabling them to refer patients for follow up as they could be at risk of severe stroke.

Experts estimate that more than 13,500 people across the South West have an undiagnosed irregular heart rhythm (known as Atrial Fibrillation), which can cause a stroke if not detected and treated appropriately, usually through blood-thinning medication to prevent clots that lead to stroke.

The rollout coincides with National Heart Month, which runs during February and 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 and a new blood pressure monitor that also detects heart rhythms. 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 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 South West project is expected to identify over 2,500 new cases of irregular heart rhythms over two years, which could prevent around 70 strokes, potentially save 18 lives and save over £1 million in associated health and costs.

The devices are being rolled out by the 15 NHS and care innovation bodies, known as AHSNs, in the first six months of this year as part of an NHS England-funded project.

Dr Jillian Denovan, GP Principal at Pathfields Practice in Plymouth was the first recipient of the devices in the South West. She said:

‘More than 13,500 people throughout South West region are unaware they have irregular heart rhythms and of the dangers that this can pose to their health. We have highly effective treatments that can prevent these strokes, but early detection is key. Using this type of cost-effective technology will help us identify those of our patients 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 rollout 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.

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

Daniel Edmonds, GP at Queen Camel Medical Centre in Yeovil and Suzy Taylor, Project Manager at the SW AHSN were interviewed about the device roll-out on BBC Somerset’s breakfast show on Monday 19 February. Listen to the show on BBC iPLayer to hear what Daniel had to say about the devices and how they will improve the detection of AF in their practice. (Recording times: interview with Suzy at 00:37:47 and interview with Daniel at 1:37:00).

ITV West Country morning also featured the device roll-out in their morning bulletin on Wednesday 14 February.

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