A MEDICAL scheme piloted across the North-East has seen dozens of diabetics offered treatment for a heart condition that was previously undiagnosed.

Over a three-month period, 5,000 diabetic patients had their feet pulse-tested in a bid to detect atrial fibrillation (AF) – a condition causing an irregular heart rate that carries an increased stroke risk.

As part of the scheme, 45 podiatrists from across County Durham, Darlington and the Dales were trained to spot heart irregularities when taking pulse readings of diabetic patients’ feet during their annual foot screening appointments.

Linda Hicks, podiatrist at Country Durham and Darlington Foundation Trust, said: “The feet can provide an excellent indication of a patients’ wider health and can be the first sign of a potentially serious problem that, if caught early, could save your life.

“Patients with diabetes have a much greater risk of developing problems with their feet which is why we want to stress the importance of the annual foot check.

“With podiatry staff already taking pulses in patients’ feet they are well placed to identify patients with pulse irregularities.

“The podiatry staff I’ve worked with across County Durham and Darlington have been very tuned into the programme and recognise it as their clinical responsibility to help spot AF.

“The pilot has been an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of the condition amongst patients and healthcare professionals alike and training continues to be rolled out across the region.”

Philip Teasdale, a Bishop Auckland man with Type 2 diabetes was asked to make an appointment with his GP surgery’s podiatrist as part of the scheme.

Mr Teasdale, 57, said: “Upon checking the pulses in my feet with ultrasound, I was informed that I had an irregular heartbeat.

“The process of the foot pulse-test was quick and painless and without this early diagnosis and subsequent treatment my condition might have gone undetected for far longer and could have led to more complex health complications further down the line.”

Dr Rahul Nayar, chair of the Northern Diabetes Footcare Network (NDFN), said: “This is a vital screening process as heart problems are unfortunately two to three times more common in people with diabetes, so any simple process that picks up a potential problem quickly can save lives.

“Going forward through the NDFN, we plan to engage with more managers and podiatry specialists across the region to encourage further adoption of the pulse-test.”