They are building on the work of volunteer Atrial Fibrillation (AF) Ambassadors, who carried out pulse tests on more than 5,000 people in two years – of whom around 170 were referred for further diagnosis and treatment.
In 2022, the AF Ambassadors became Heart Heroes, with an expanded role to deliver blood pressure checks and cholesterol tests, as well as pulse tests.
In 12 months, almost 3,000 people were given blood pressure and pulse tests, of whom 300 were referred to their GPs with high blood pressure and 75 with suspected AF.
The volunteers have been recruited and trained by the Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) Team at the Innovation Agency to support work on stroke prevention. Their remit is to target areas which often miss out on screening opportunities – and which have high rates of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
How Heart Heroes began
The Innovation Agency was working with other AHSNs around the country to support GPs in identifying people with atrial fibrillation and improving treatments – in a ‘Detect, Perfect, Protect’ programme to reduce strokes.
To raise awareness of atrial fibrillation and the importance of pulse tests, the Innovation Agency PPI Team recruited volunteers to become AF Ambassadors, trained and equipped with Kardia devices, portable electrocardiogram (ECG) monitors which can easily be used with a smartphone to display a heart trace on the Kardia app. They were tasked with testing family, work colleagues and friends.
An important breakthrough was a partnership with Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, who agreed to take on pulse testing as part of their Safe and Well Checks in people’s homes, with testing devices provided by the Innovation Agency.
More organisations were then brought on board and the PPI Team trained volunteers to carry out pulse testing at Everton in the Community, Healthwatch, John Lewis, Royal Mail, hospital trusts and charities.
There are around 50 Heart Heroes in the North West Coast, organised by the Innovation Agency PPI Team to carry out screening at mosques, temples, supermarkets, libraries, vaccination centres and sporting fixtures. They join wellbeing teams on bus tours around the region, screening farmers in cattle markets, gardeners at horticultural shows and visitors to public events such as fairs and festivals.
Screening is focussed on areas of highest deprivation and where there are communities from ethnic minorities and those experiencing social exclusion, as highlighted in the NHS England Core20Plus5 approach to addressing health inequalities.
The AF Ambassadors in the Community programme was recognised at the HSJ Awards in 2021, winning the HSJ Provider Collaboration of the Year Award.