Innovative new technology is being rolled out across the West Midlands in a campaign launched today (Thursday 15 February). Made available as part of a national campaign, it is estimated that the devices could prevent 540 strokes and save 135 lives in just two years.
More than 500 new devices including mobile electrocardiogram (ECG) units are being distributed by the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (WMAHSN) to GP practices, pharmacies and NHS community clinics across the region. The new devices detect irregular heart rhythms quickly and easily, enabling NHS staff to refer any patients with irregular heart rhythms 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 blood-thinning medication to prevent clots that lead to stroke.
The rollout 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 and a new blood pressure cuff 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 technology will allow more staff in more settings to quickly and easily conduct pulse checks. As a result, the project is expected to identify 19,000 new cases of irregular heart rhythms (known as Atrial Fibrillation) over two years, which could prevent up to 540 strokes and save £12.1m in associated health and costs.
The devices are being rolled out by the 15 NHS and care innovation bodies, known as Academic Health Science Networks (AHSN), in the first six months of this year as part of an NHS England-funded project.
The clinical lead for Atrial Fibrillation for the West Midlands AHSN, Dr Alex Meyer said: ““More than 39,500 people throughout the West Midlands 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 significantly reduce the risk of strokes, but we need to find these patients in order for them to benefit. The NHS can now use cost-effective technology to identify people with irregular heart rhythms more effectively, enabling them to benefit from highly effective treatment. 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 readily available user-friendly technology has the potential to further improve the quality of the fantastic work that we are doing in the NHS.”
Professor Tony Rudd, National Clinical Director for Stroke at 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.
Every February is National Heart Month. This year the BHF is encouraging everyone to make small changes towards a healthier lifestyle. See more here.
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.
Clinical Commissioning Groups and individual GP practices can apply for the devices. Submissions are now open via the Meridian platform - https://meridian.wmahsn.org/
The hashtag being used to help raise awareness is #KnowYourPulse