NHS England has announced they are to invest £9 million to help find and treat people with an irregular heart rhythm that puts them at high risk of stroke.

Experts estimate that more than 147,000 people in England with an irregular heart rhythm that puts them at risk of stroke are not receiving appropriate treatment. Making sure people with this condition are given optimal treatment – usually blood-thinning medication to prevent clots – can more than halve their risk of having a stroke.

The £9 million investment will fund specialists to work with GPs and advise them on the best treatment for people identified as having irregular heart rhythms (known as atrial fibrillation). This new scheme, successfully trialled in South London, will treat more than 18,000 people and is expected to prevent up to 700 strokes and save at least 200 lives.

The programme will run across 23 areas of the country with the highest rates of the condition receiving funding for specialist clinical pharmacists and nurses to help identify people who could benefit from medication.

This new approach is being supported by the 15 NHS and care innovation bodies, the Academic Health Science Networks.

Professor Gary Ford, Chief Executive of Oxford AHSN, Consultant Stroke Physician at Oxford University Hospitals and Professor of Stroke Medicine at the University of Oxford said:

“Atrial Fibrillation accounts for 20% of all strokes. We know that providing the best treatment for patients with this condition reduces stroke risk but at the moment half of all people with this irregular heart rhythm who suffer a stroke have not received optimal treatment.

“Our work in South London has shown that when specialists are made available to advise GPs, more people at risk of stroke are identified and treated, helping to avoid strokes and save lives”

NHS England Medical Director, Stephen Powis, said:

“Tackling heart disease and stroke is a top priority in the NHS Long Term Plan, which will save thousands of lives by better diagnosis and treatment for people with killer conditions.

“By targeting help at those people most at risk of illness, and training up specialist clinicians, the NHS in England will help families across the country avoid the pain and loss associated with stroke.

“Not only is stroke one of the biggest killers in our country, but it leads to life-changing and often devastating long-term harm for many others, so by spotting the risks early, the NHS will not only prevent serious harm to the people affected, but avoid the need for aftercare which puts additional pressure on the health service.”

“Treating people who have atrial fibrillation with anticoagulation drugs, reduces the risk of stroke by two-thirds yet only half of those with the condition who go on to suffer a stroke had been prescribed them.

“People who are poorer, from black or ethnic minority backgrounds or other disadvantaged groups are more likely to be among those who go undiagnosed and untreated.”

Helen Williams, Clinical Advisor to the AHSN Network’s atrial fibrillation programme said:

“We piloted this approach in Lambeth and Southwark, utilising expert clinical pharmacists from the local acute trust who worked with GPs to review patients with atrial fibrillation on a case by case basis, offering advice on optimum treatment. As a result, we have seen a substantial increase in the number of patients with atrial fibrillation prescribed anticoagulant therapy and an associated reduction in atrial fibrillation related strokes.

“We are delighted that NHS England are investing in rolling out this model to a further 23 clinical commissioning groups so that more patients across England can benefit.”

Find out more about what AHSNs are doing to prevent and treat atrial fibrillation.

Background

The clinical commissioning groups to receive funding are those parts of the country with high levels of deprivation and/or high levels of untreated AF, which can cause stroke. They are:

  1. NHS Barnet CCG
  2. NHS Bradford City CCG
  3. NHS Brent CCG
  4. NHS Camden CCG
  5. NHS Chorley And South Ribble CCG
  6. NHS Croydon CCG
  7. NHS Enfield CCG
  8. NHS Great Yarmouth And Waveney CCG
  9. NHS Greenwich CCG
  10. NHS Haringey CCG
  11. NHS Harrow CCG
  12. NHS Isle of Wight CCG
  13. NHS Islington CCG
  14. NHS Kingston CCG
  15. NHS Leeds CCG
  16. NHS Morecambe Bay CCG
  17. NHS North Cumbria CCG
  18. NHS North Tyneside CCG
  19. NHS Northumberland CCG
  20. NHS Portsmouth CCG
  21. NHS South Kent Coast CCG
  22. NHS Thanet CCG
  23. NHS West Lancashire CCG