16 November 2020

AF Ambassador Wendy Westobyn tests a coach driver’s pulse

Around 140 strokes will be prevented in the North West Coast in the coming year thanks to a programme to detect and treat irregular heart rhythms resulting in over £16 million in savings to the public purse.

The Innovation Agency, the Academic Health Science Network for the North West Coast, has exceeded its targets to detect people in the region with atrial fibrillation (AF).

AF is responsible for approximately 20 per cent of all strokes, which can leave survivors with devastating disabilities. In the UK, one million people are known to be affected by AF and an additional 422,600 people are undiagnosed. Treating the condition costs the NHS over £2.2 billion each year.

Making sure people with AF are given the best treatment – usually blood-thinning medication to prevent clots (anticoagulants) – can more than halve their risk of having a stroke.

In 2015, the Academic Health Science Network set ambitious targets to improve the detection, diagnosis and treatment of patients with AF.

Here in the North West Coast, data showed that:

  • 24,210 people were estimated to have undetected AF
  • 76 per cent of people with high-risk AF were treated with anticoagulation therapy

The Innovation Agency played a key role in the nationwide ‘Detect, Protect, Perfect’ campaign and was tasked with detecting and diagnosing 85 per cent of those ‘missing’ people with undiagnosed AF and ensuring 84 per cent of patients with AF, known to be at high risk of a stroke, were adequately anticoagulated.

The latest Quality Outcome Framework (QOF) data for 2018 to 2020 revealed that the Innovation Agency achieved an 87 per cent detection rate, making it a high performing region for this national programme and exceeding the national target the NHS is aiming to reach by 2029..

Plus, 87 per cent of our region’s high-risk AF patients are now receiving anticoagulation therapy – an increase of 11 per cent since 2015/2016, which takes us well on the way to achieving the national target of 90 per cent which the NHS aims to achieve by 2029.

Since 2015 we have contributed to the avoidance of 715 strokes, including 179 deaths avoided and savings of £16M to health and social care. The reduction in strokes is expected to continue, as a result of actions taken to identify people at risk and prescribe life-saving medication

The Innovation Agency adopted a partnership approach to engage the whole healthcare system in helping to detect people with AF and improve care. It has:

  • Distributed over 500 mobile ECG devices to healthcare teams across primary care and community services to facilitate opportunistic pulse testing
  • Trained over 70 volunteer AF Ambassadors to test pulses in their communities
  • Trained fire and rescue services in Cheshire, Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria to perform pulse checks during community safe and well visits, resulting in over 10,000 opportunistic pulse tests and over 1,000 people being signposted for further investigation
  • Implemented two AF Collaboratives involving 136 GP practices and nine CCGs to deliver a quality improvement programme to primary care. This has resulted in 2,300 people being diagnosed with AF and given anticoagulation therapy

This collaborative approach has demonstrated significant, sustainable improvement in the detection and management of AF for the region.

Bruce Taylor, Cardiovascular Disease Primary Care lead for the Chesire and Merseyside Strategic Clinical Network, said: "Thanks to an innovative and collaborative approach across the health and care system, we've seen fantastic and sustainable results in better care for patients with AF in the region. This programme has already saved lives and will continue to do so, as well as freeing up valuable resources in health and social care."

Dr Julia Reynolds, Associate Director and Head of Programmes at the Innovation Agency, said: “We are delighted that all the hard work in our region in testing pulses, has resulted in more people being identified with AF and treated to prevent potential strokes. We have already started to see a reduction in AF-related strokes.”

If you would like to find out more contact Julia on 01772 520 253 or email

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