Government and NHS to help tackle killer heart condition

The government has unveiled measures to tackle aortic dissection, a life-threatening heart condition that kills 2,000 people every year.

Speaking at a research event to mark Aortic Dissection Awareness Day, health secretary Steve Barclay announced the formation of an NHS working group that will bring together clinical experts and charities to improve diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

blue wooden gate with a red heart painted on it

The group will review the whole patient experience when it comes to aortic dissections, and pinpoint opportunities for future improvement, including the potential benefits of genetic testing.

Barclay said: ‘Aortic dissection can be a devastating condition and every year it takes the lives of more people than die on our roads, yet awareness is low. Changing that will save lives.

‘Developing a holistic approach, from identifying those potentially at risk to providing first class follow-up care, will be life-changing for patients and I’m delighted to be able to build on the good work we’re already doing in this area.’

Barclay has asked for the working group to report back with options within six months, and aortic dissection charities will input into the work.

MP Pauline Latham, who tragically lost her son to an undiagnosed aortic dissection in 2018, has been a leading voice in campaigning to improve the lives of sufferers and their families, and met with Barclay earlier this year to discuss ways to improve aortic dissection care.

Latham said: ‘In the wake of losing my son Ben to a missed diagnosis of aortic dissection, I couldn’t sit back and let other families suffer the way we have. That’s why Graham Cooper, Catherine Fowler and I started the Aortic Dissection Charitable Trust.

‘We’ve been pushing hard – asking tough questions in parliament, meeting with health ministers, and I’m thrilled to say, we have NHS England and the Department for Health and Social Care on board.

‘This will bring in standardised care, genetic screening, and specialised nurses to not only save lives but improve quality of life for everyone affected by this condition. It’s our heartfelt mission to turn tragedy into a safer future for all.’

The announcement builds on the progress made on aortic dissection in recent years. NHS England adjusted 111 and 999’s triage systems to better recognise chest pains caused by aortic dissections and is rolling out the aortic dissection acute toolkit across the regions to speed up diagnosis and improve patient outcomes, while the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has also published a best-practice guide to improve diagnosis in emergency departments.

The Department of Health and Social Care is also funding dedicated research into aortic dissection through the National Institute for Health and Care Research, as part of an annual £50m investment in cardiovascular disease research.

Researchers are developing a tool to help people at genetic risk of aortic dissection decide if they want screening and, if necessary, preventative treatment.

Image: Jon Tyson

More on this topic:

NHS England to launch a life-saving heart attack campaign

Freedom granted for GPs to order direct heart checks


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