GPs could prevent strokes by treating this common heart problem

Health officials claim that over 8,000 strokes could be prevented every year if doctors were better at treating a common heart problem.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has released new indicators that will help GPs improve the identification and management of atrial fibrillation (AF) – a common heart condition that causes an irregular heartbeat and increases the risk of stroke.

NICE indicators work like a set of rules for health bodies to follow. They measure the quality of care a person receives and the impact this has on their health. The indicators focus on where improvements could be made.

One of the new NICE indicators will support CCGs to record the number of people who have suffered a stroke and have not been receiving NICE recommended treatment (such as blood thinners) for their AF.

It is estimated up to 470,000 adults with AF have not been diagnosed and therefore are not receiving appropriate advice to reduce their risk of stroke.

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Professor Danny Keenan, associate medical director, Central Manchester University Hospitals and chair of the indicator advisory committee, said: “Effective treatment of atrial fibrillation can be the difference between life and death. These indicators will help to identify where people with atrial fibrillation have slipped through the cracks, and are not receiving the best treatment. It is only with data that we can properly assess the steps needed to ensure no-one at risk is left unchecked or untreated.”

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and health and social care director at NICE, said: “These indicators are a prime example of how NICE is working to enhance the quality of care in the NHS whilst recognising that we must use its scarce resources wisely.”

Doctors will be asked to identify people who have AF so that they can discuss and agree treatment options with their GP.

If effective, the indicators will be introduced permanently in 2017.

Stroke is among the leading causes of deaths, and one in five of stroke-related deaths are thought to be caused by patients with AF.

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