New heart service could save lives in London

Tuesday 13 December 2016

A cartoon of a human heart in front of a purple background

An initiative to improve care for people with heart failure could save around 80 lives a year in Lambeth and Southwark.

The two-year project from King’s Health Partners, led by clinicians at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trusts, is expected to lead to fewer hospital admissions, reduced costs to the NHS and an improved rate of early diagnosis of the condition.

The new service, which is funded through a £1.5 million grant from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, will improve access to specialist heart failure advice for GPs and patients by introducing expert heart failure teams across the two boroughs. It is thought to be the first initiative of its kind for heart failure in the country.

Through early and accurate diagnosis, appropriate treatment and improved access to specialists, the programme should result in patients living longer with a better quality of life in their homes.

It is expected to save 3,000 hospital bed days annually across Lambeth and Southwark, while reducing avoidable hospital admissions and re-admissions of patients with heart failure.

If the pilot is successful it is hoped that the same model will be adopted across the rest of the UK for heart failure and other chronic conditions.

Dr Gerry Carr-White, consultant cardiologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “This exciting initiative will mean we can enhance the services provided by GPs to patients with heart failure to improve their diagnosis and treatment, which should ultimately save lives. We are very grateful to Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity for making this possible.”

The dedicated heart failure teams will include a named doctor, nurse and pharmacist, who can be contacted directly by clinical teams in the community for day-to-day advice on the management of their patients. As two thirds of heart failure patients also have other long-term conditions, the heart failure teams will work closely with relevant specialist services to develop a joint approach to their care.

The teams will run education sessions and ‘virtual clinics’ in local GP practices where they can advise GPs on the best course of action for their heart failure patients.

Heart failure is a leading cause of death in Lambeth and Southwark. Up to 9,000 people are estimated to live with the condition across the two boroughs but less than 3,000 are known to health services.

The condition occurs when the heart is unable to pump blood around the body properly and can be fatal if left untreated without access to care. Symptoms commonly include breathlessness, fatigue and swollen ankles and legs.

A third of patients also have significant depression or anxiety so the heart failure teams will aim to improve psychological support for patients in the community and provide easier access to mental health experts by working with South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.

Kieron Boyle, Chief Executive of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, said: “Through our work backing new approaches in health, we know that often what makes the biggest difference is being diagnosed and treated quickly. Through this project we hope to save dozens of lives a year and improve many more. This will be achieved by raising people’s awareness of heart failure, bringing experts into community settings, and ensuring that those living with heart failure and other physical and mental long-term conditions receive the rounded care they need.”

Heart failure teams have already started working with GPs and community nurses in three of the five local care networks that cover Lambeth and Southwark. All five areas will have access to the service by early next year.

Mark Chamley, a GP based in Lambeth, said: “Having direct access to specialist heart failure advice has already proven to be immensely beneficial for patients. It has allowed me to discuss the correct tests and treatment for them to ensure they are receiving the best possible care which should reduce their chance of being admitted to hospital.”

Gerard McGrath, 81, from East Dulwich was diagnosed with heart failure in 2012. He said: “Knowing that my GP surgery can easily access a team of experts with first class knowledge will make me more confident and reassured about the treatment I receive, and I’m sure it will be a big plus to heart failure patients like me.

“It’s also good to know that this will allow doctors to communicate better with each other about my other health conditions, as well as my heart.”

Last updated: December 2016

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