New ECG service hopes to reduce waiting times for heart patients in Sunderland

Jill Dury, practice nurse at Springwell Medical Group.
Jill Dury, practice nurse at Springwell Medical Group.
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Serious heart problems among Sunderland patients could be diagnosed earlier thanks to the launch of a new service in the city.

Wearsiders can now benefit from direct access to Ambulatory Electrocardiogram (ECG) services at their GP practices.

“For our own practice this has been fantastic in helping improve the high level of service we provide to our patients.”

Jill Dury

Launched by Sunderland GP Alliance, it hopes to reduces waiting times and helps diagnose potential conditions earlier.

Atrial fibrillation (AF), is an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid and irregular beating.

Most episodes have no symptoms but can start as brief periods of abnormal beating.

Early diagnosis is important as the disease is associated with an increased risk of heart failure and stroke.

In Sunderland, it is estimated that around 2,000 people may have undiagnosed Atrial Fibrillation.

One of the ways the condition can be detected is with an ECG, which typically involves GPs referring a patient to a hospital or one of the Primary Care Centres to undertake the test.

The process of obtaining an appointment, having the ECG test and waiting for the results being sent back to the GP can take between four and eight weeks for a priority referral, much longer for other referrals. With the recent launch of a Community Ambulatory 24-72 hour heart ECG service patients can now be referred to a GP practice for an ECG without the need to be referred to a hospital.

In most cases the process can be completed within five to seven days.

Tracey Teasdale, project manager at Sunderland GP Alliance said: “The new service allows patients to receive quicker appointments, with all test results being accompanied by a cardiac physiologist’s report to the referring GP.”

The service was launched in June and operates on a hub and spoke basis.

Selected hub sites have been set up across the city.

Springwell Medical Group in Sunderland is one of the GP practices providing the ECG service.

Dr James Bell of the practice said: “During the short time the Ambulatory ECG service has been in operation we have already seen massive benefits to our patients.

“One patient mentioned how quick and efficient the service was, and how delighted they were that they did not have to wait for a referral to hospital for tests and then wait for the results.”

Jill Dury, practice nurse at Springwell Medical Group, who regularly uses the ECG equipment added: “The technology itself is really easy to use and unobtrusive allowing me to quickly fit the device and upload the results for analysis.

“For our own practice this has been fantastic in helping improve the high level of service we provide to our patients.

“The fact that we are one of the hubs supporting other GPs practices in Sunderland ensures these patient benefits are passed to practices throughout the city as well.”

The ECG service will run within the localities until the end of March 2017, after which Sunderland GP Alliance will evaluate it.