AHSN Network national programme from April 2018-March 2020

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is the most common cause of an irregular heart rhythm and the cause of 20% of strokes. Despite the serious impact, many people are unaware they have the condition and Public Health England estimates that 300,000 people in England have undiagnosed AF. It occurs more often in people aged over 65 or with other long-term conditions, and it increases a person’s risk of stroke fivefold. Some people do not experience symptoms, which increases the likelihood of their AF remaining undiagnosed and places them at greatest risk of a stroke.

Strokes caused by AF are more likely to be fatal or leave a person with a severe disability, however, treating AF with anticoagulant (blood thinning) medication reduces the risk of stroke by up to two thirds. Despite this, even when diagnosed, many people with AF are not prescribed anticoagulation. In 2018/19 NHS Digital reported that there were more than 142,000 people in England with AF and at risk of stroke who were not receiving anticoagulation.

In 2017, NHS England funded the AHSN Network to increase the uptake of innovative AF detection devices within the NHS, allowing us to support the detection of AF, the initiation of anticoagulation medication and develop a thorough understanding of the key elements required for a national roll-out of technology. An evaluation can be found in the links and resources section of this page.

The AHSN Network selected AF as a national programme between April 2018 – March 2020, with all AHSNs delivering the programme in their region.

This national programme of work focussed on the three key elements of the AF pathway:

  • Detect– Raising public awareness of AF and the importance of pulse rhythm testing to identify those with undiagnosed AF.
  • Protect– Supporting healthcare professionals to offer optimal anticoagulation medication to all those who would benefit.
  • Perfect– Supporting patients with their anticoagulation medication and supporting clinicians to review patients with AF.


Over the course of AHSN work on AF initiatives (2015/16 – 2019/20) almost 12,000 AF-related strokes were avoided and more than 2,900 lives were saved. Saving £158 million in NHS costs and £105 million in social care costs.

Links and resources