Pulse check programme helps prevent strokes and save lives

More than 850 strokes have been prevented thanks to a drive to detect and treat irregular heart rhythm in people across the North East and North Cumbria.

New figures[i] reveal that an Academic Health Science Network for the North East and North Cumbria (AHSN NENC) programme aiming to improve the detection and treatment of an irregular heart rhythm known as Atrial Fibrillation (AF) has helped to prevent 860 strokes and saved 215 lives. This represents an estimated cost saving to the NHS of £12million and a further £8million in social care savings.

AF is a condition which causes an irregular or abnormally fast heart rate and is a major risk factor for stroke. Recognising and receiving proper treatment for the condition, which often shows no symptoms, is important because strokes due to AF tend to be more severe. Detecting AF early and making sure people are given optimal treatment – usually blood-thinning medication to prevent clots (anticoagulants) reduces the risk of stroke by two thirds.

Over the last four years, an NHS programme, led regionally by the AHSN NENC, has introduced a number of initiatives to identify and treat those with the condition, including pulse checks for over 65s and those with high risk conditions, mobile ECG devices, and ‘virtual clinics’ involving specialists working with GPs to advise on the best treatment for people with AF.

The AHSN NENC has distributed a total of 574 mobile ECG devices – called AliveCor – within a range of settings across the region and has provided training to more than 1,000 healthcare professionals. These devices are now being used by GPs, practice nurses, healthcare assistants, community pharmacists, specialist nurses, podiatrists, Fire and Rescue Service workers and third sector organisations.

Since the start of the programme, the number of additional people with AF receiving treatment each year has increased by more than 21,000.


Professor Julia Newton, Medical Director at the AHSN NENC, said: “Thankfully in most cases AF isn’t usually life-threatening, but strokes related to the condition can be extremely severe. This is why it’s so important that those who have AF but aren’t aware, are identified and treated at the earliest opportunity.”


“It is fantastic to know that the programme we have led in the region has prevented hundreds of strokes and saved the lives of so many people across the North East and North Cumbria. We are proud to have worked alongside so many dedicated and passionate healthcare professionals over the last four years, who have worked incredibly hard to ensure thousands of these life-saving pulse checks were carried out.”


The success of the regional programme has also received national recognition this week, with two North East and North Cumbria projects selected to be published in The AF Association’s Healthcare Pioneers Report, which showcases the most innovative approaches to detecting and managing AF. These include the AHSN NENC’s innovative AF detection work in a rural community setting using the Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service, and its work with community nurses at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust to prevent AF-related strokes in high-risk cardiac patients.


Dr Nicholas Hargreaves, a GP at Burn Brae Medical Group, Hexham, Northumberland, said: “AliveCor has not only improved efficiency in the way we work but, more importantly, it has brought significant benefits to those patients who have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and are now receiving the appropriate treatment. It is compact, quick and easy to use by both GPs and practice nurses and our patients have found the pulse check process simple and straightforward.”


Mary Walsh, 73, from Stockton-on-Tees, was diagnosed with AF thanks to the AliveCor pulse check device. She said: “Before I went to the doctor, I had been feeling unwell for some time and it was having a significant impact on my life. I struggled to remain as active as I used to be, which was especially upsetting when it came to playing with my grandchild.”

“Thankfully, AliveCor helped give me my life back. The device really is amazing and I’m certain it will help save people’s lives. It is so simple and straightforward, and it gave the result in seconds.”


AliveCor is a handheld device comprising of two small pads which takes a 30 second reading when the patient places their fingers on the pads. The device is simple and quick to use and sends data directly to the free Kardia app when downloaded onto a smartphone or tablet.

For more information on the AHSN NENC, visit: healthinnovationnenc.org.uk

[i] https://qof.digital.nhs.uk/