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3,000 strokes prevented and 800 lives saved through national drive to detect and treat irregular heart rhythm

AF programme protect chartNew figures reveal that a programme rolled out across the NHS to reduce strokes related to an irregular heart rhythm prevented 3,165 strokes and saved 791 lives last year (2018/19).

The NHS initiative focused on improving the detection and treatment of atrial fibrillation (AF) – the most common type of irregular heart rhythm that can increase risk of stroke. In the UK one million people are known to be affected by AF and an additional 422,600 people are undiagnosed. This irregular heart rhythm is responsible for approximately 20% of all strokes which can leave survivors with disabling consequences. Treating the condition costs the NHS over £2.2 billion each year.

Making sure people with AF are given optimal treatment – usually blood-thinning medication to prevent clots (anticoagulants) – can more than halve their risk of having a stroke.

Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) have played a key role in this nationwide initiative. Pulse checks for over 65s, mobile ECG devices for GP surgeries and pharmacies, and new ‘virtual clinics’ involving specialists working with GPs to advise on the best treatment for people with the condition were among activities undertaken as part of this lifesaving work.

As a result, last year over 61,000 people were diagnosed with AF for the first time and almost 80,000, including some who were previously diagnosed, were given appropriate medication.

AF programme detect chartProfessor Gary Ford, Chief Executive of the Oxford AHSN and Consultant Stroke Physician said: “Spotting the risk of stroke early and taking preventative measures can help to reduce risk of premature death and reduce the number of people who experience life-changing, long-term disability due to stroke. Identifying people who have AF and ensuring they are provided with the most appropriate anticoagulant (blood thinning) therapy can more than halve their risk of having a stroke.

“Since 2016 AHSNs have worked tirelessly with others across the healthcare system to reduce the burden of stroke. This recently released data illustrates the significant impact our work has made, improving lives and reducing costs to the NHS.”

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