MEDICAL researchers from the North-East are raising awareness about heart disease to improve the quality of care across the country.

Darlington has been considered a centre of excellence for how it diagnoses and treats people with heart failure since 2008, raising awareness of early symptoms like breathlessness and swollen ankles.

The researchers behind the UK's first one stop clinic for heart failure, a model which has been hailed for lowering the five-year survival rate for the disease, are working with the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and Alliance for Heart Failure (AHF), which held a round table event with leading cardiologists this week, to reduce the variability across the country.

Professor Ahmet Fuat, who has been a GP in Darlington for more than 30 years, said: "That clinic has been copied in many areas across the country. People have sat with us from the Isle of Lewis to Plymouth to train."

He added: "I do think our work has had an impact but it is still variable.

"Some areas do not have the clinic like we do which is why the BHF and AHF are trying to raise awareness of heart failure and why they are giving best practise examples like ours.

"People can hopefully copy our example and improve the diagnosis and management of heart failure across the UK, without variability.

The clinic was set up by Professor Fuat, along with Professor Jerry Murphy, a cardiologist at Darlington Memorial Hospital and nurse Vikki Duffy in 2002.

Darlington has one of the highest prevalences of heart failure in the North-East but the lowest rate of admission to hospital, which is also significantly below England as a whole.

Between 2013 and 2017, 59 to 79 per cent of patients referred annually were confirmed as having heart failure, much higher than published rates referred to heart failure clinics.

Professor Murphy, who is researching the role of MRI in identifying heart disease, said: "We've been recognised as a national centre for excellence since 2008 so this isn't a new story. It's something that has worked well for a lot of years.

"Our model is really involved in getting the diagnosis right and making sure people are on the right treatment. And we do have effective treatments that do make people feel better. It's an overall package of care.

"Not everyone who has heart failure will die of it but 80 per cent will. Before treatment, the majority of people die within five years. We've cut it from two thirds of people dying within five years to a third.

"That's huge."

He added: "It's a case of trying to raise the profile of some of these conditions.

"Ultimately services vary hugely from place to place. We have found a way that works and we are keen to share that."

How does the model work in Darlington?

  • GPs and nurses across all 11 Darlington CCG/PCN practices were trained in heart failure diagnosis and management. As part of long term condition clinics, these GPs and nurses now pro-actively ask patients about symptoms of possible heart failure in patients with conditions predisposing them to the condition, including hypertension, coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, COPD, and chronic kidney disease.
  • Lead clinicians in all 11 practices were given extra training, and if heart failure symptoms presented, they had access to BNP testing to guide the need for echocardiography and referral to the one stop diagnostic clinic.
  • GP practices were also provided with technology that enabled real time interrogation of patient records to identify patients with heart failure that may not have been coded properly, investigated, and as to whether or not they had been offered evidence-based treatments.