New tech to prevent strokes rolled out in North West Coast

AF Ambassador Kim Hughes tests Sarah Oldnall for AF

INNOVATIVE technology is being introduced across Cheshire, Merseyside, Lancashire and south Cumbria to prevent strokes and save lives.

Portable devices which detect an irregular heart rhythm are being distributed by the Innovation Agency to GP practices, pharmacies and NHS community clinics across the North West Coast.

The devices identify possible cases of atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common type of irregular heart rhythm which is responsible for around 20 per cent of all strokes.

One million people in the UK are known to be affected by atrial fibrillation and experts estimate that an additional 422,600 people are undiagnosed. Stroke survivors often live with disabling consequences and treating the condition costs the NHS over £2.2 billion each year.

The Innovation Agency has been a leader in introducing devices and raising awareness of the importance of pulse checking. In the last four years, they have recruited health professionals, individual volunteers and Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service in their campaign to prevent strokes.

Their work has identified an estimated 7,000 people with atrial fibrillation – potentially preventing more than 300 strokes.

During National Heart Month this February, the Innovation Agency and its partner 14 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) are starting to distribute 6,000 more devices to health professionals across the country, funded by NHS England.

Dr Julia Reynolds, Head of Programmes and lead for AF at the Innovation Agency, the AHSN for the North West Coast, said: “In our region there are around 11,000 people who 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 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 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.”

In the North West Coast alone, the project is expected to identify 1,219 new cases of atrial fibrillation over two years, which could prevent up to 34 strokes and save more than £750,000 in associated health care costs.

Nationally, the aim is to identify 130,000 new cases over two years, which could prevent at least 3,650 strokes and save £81 million in associated health and care costs annually.

The innovative technology includes a smartphone-linked device that works via an app and a blood pressure cuff that also detects heart rhythms. Small and easy to use, the devices can also be taken on home visits to patients.

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.

The Innovation Agency is recruiting volunteers to become AF Ambassadors to test people’s pulses in their communities and anyone who would like to get involved should call Debbie Parkinson on 01772 520250 or email debbie.parkinson@innovationagencynwc.nhs.uk.

NHS England Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis 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.”