Kevin McGibbon, Cardiac Nurse, showing an AF monitor screen
A digital health scheme intended to reduce the number of strokes among people in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent is saving lives as well as saving local NHS services millions of pounds.
The pilot project, which launched in 2019, saw 18 GP surgeries in East Staffordshire given easy-to-use portable electrocardiogram (ECG) devices designed to help detect atrial fibrillation (AF) – irregular heart rhythms that can lead to blood clots and stroke.
During the six-month project, that was shortlisted for a prestigious Health Service Journal Partnership Award, people with symptoms of AF were tested, along with people who were routinely visiting their GP surgeries.
One of those who took part in the project was Colin Allen (65) from Uttoxeter. Colin was diagnosed with AF several years ago. During a check-up at his GP surgery, he used the monitoring device and was so impressed that he bought one to use at home.
Colin said: “These monitors are fantastic machines. They are quick and easy to use, and I’m sure they have the potential to help save lives. My doctor brought one of these devices out at the surgery and as soon as he used it, I thought: ‘that’s really useful.’ It was a straightforward procedure, and it didn’t hurt a bit.
“The monitor gives you a quick and direct reading on a phone app and it’s great for giving you peace of mind if you have any health worries. It’s so easy to use that I bought one myself and it allows me to keep an eye on my own health without bothering the doctor.”
During the project, 49 people were diagnosed with AF and were treated before they suffered a stroke or further complications that could lead to long-term health conditions.
The devices have now been rolled out to 151 GP surgeries in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent and have already helped to diagnose heart conditions in 336 people. It is estimated that the screening will save the NHS in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent almost £5 million in treatment costs over three years.
The monitors are being used by GP surgeries to assess people with long-term conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and respiratory illness, when they come in for health checks.
Dr Rachel Gallyot, local GP and Clinical Chair for NHS East Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “This was a really successful project which had a huge impact on patient care. It’s a great example of partnership working between nurses, GP managers and clinical leaders across the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Integrated Care System. Our GP surgeries quickly adapted to using the new mobile devices to effectively support their patients.”
People with AF typically report palpitations, chest pain or breathlessness. However, up to a third of people are asymptomatic – meaning their illnesses can remain undetected until it is too late.
Dr Gallyot said: “Many people have AF but don’t realise it until they have a stroke, which can lead to disability or death.
“Early detection and prevention using these devices offers people massive health benefits. We can now provide people with education and support to make lifestyle changes that will keep them healthier and hopefully prevent their condition from getting worse.
“Having a stroke can result in serious and life-changing health consequences which are far more difficult to treat than if we had been able to catch them sooner and take preventative steps.”
The signs and symptoms of a stroke vary from person to person, but usually begin suddenly. The face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have drooped.
The person may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in one arm. Their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake – they may also have problems understanding what you're saying.
If you suspect you or someone else is having a stroke, phone 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.
An AF heart monitor in use, photo taken by Wavemaker
For further information about stroke visit the NHS website.