Recently released figures reveal that a programme rolled out by the AHSN Network to reduce strokes related to an irregular heart rhythm helped to prevent 3,165 strokes and 791 lives last year (2018/19).

The NHS initiative delivered by all 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) focussed 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.

AHSNs 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 amongst the varied activities undertaken as part of this life saving work.

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.

Preventing AF strokes in the West Country

In our region, the West of England AHSN has been building on the ground-breaking work started through Don’t Wait to Anticoagulate since 2015. This programme brought together a range of industry and NHS partners to develop a series of toolkits for clinicians, pharmacists and patients to support shared decision-making and to optimise anticoagulation for patients with AF. This was supported by quality improvement (QI) methodology and clinical skills training.

From January 2018 to March 2019 we distributed a total of 200 mobile ECG devices to GP practices across the West of England, resulting in the recording of over 2,000 pulse rhythm checks and the detection of 184 possible cases of AF.

Through these initiatives, we have supported the drive by NHS providers and commissioners in the West of England to increase AF detection and treatment rates in the region.

In 2018/19, 3,648 people with AF in the West received anticoagulants, potentially preventing 146 strokes and avoiding costs of nearly £2 million to the NHS.

Professor Gary Ford, Chief Executive of 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.

“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 cost to the NHS.”


Posted on February 17, 2020

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