Bringing joined-up heart failure care to patients

Gordon Richardson, 77, from Rhos-on-Sea

We've funded an integrated heart failure service to bring the best possible care to heart failure patients. Sarah Brealey reports on an innovative project in north Wales.

For people living with heart failure, timely treatment can be the difference between a well-managed condition and a hospital admission. That’s why a BHF-funded service is working to keep patients at home.

The BHF gave Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board £90,000 over two years, to set up a community heart failure service in Conwy and Denbighshire. It assembled a team – a GP with a special interest in community cardiology, a heart failure specialist nurse, a clinical cardiac physiologist and a pharmacist – while rapid-access echocardiogram clinics helped increase diagnoses. Results are still being analysed but suggest a drop in hospital readmittance. Patient surveys have also reported an improvement in quality of life.

They were concerned to make sure I got the right treatment

“This innovative service is all about identifying and managing heart failure patients in the community to prevent them going into hospital or becoming so sick that they end up in A&E,” says Catrin Hanks, North Wales Cardiac Network Manager.

“It is certainly cost-effective; it helps take the pressure off unscheduled care. As a patient, it is better not to go into hospital if you don’t have to, and to have a small team of specialists caring for you. It is a win-win situation.”

'I felt lucky'

Gordon Richardson, 77, from Rhos-on-Sea, was diagnosed with heart failure four years ago, after he started to feel ill on a flight home from Europe. When his condition deteriorated, he had to spend a week in hospital. But since the integrated care service was set up in Llandudno, when his condition worsened again, the specialist team was able to see him.

“I was starting to get breathless,” he says. “I actually thought it might be asthma, as I’ve had that in the past, but it turned out to be my heart. They gave me an echocardiogram and adjusted my medication and I have been fine ever since. It was a very pleasant experience. They were concerned to make sure I got the right treatment. I felt very lucky.”

Gordon, who also has a pacemaker, is currently recovering from a broken leg, but has otherwise kept active and is able to enjoy trips abroad with his partner.

“The BHF funding has played a massive part in moving things forward,” explains Catrin. “The BHF gave us the opportunity to trial the service and to gather evidence and evaluate it.”

The service has now been fully funded by the local NHS Health Board, ensuring its long-term presence. It’s being rolled out across North Wales and is fully joined up with the hospital heart failure teams.

The project is one of nine we’re funding across Britain to improve quality of life through joined-up healthcare. The aims are to improve prevention, increase the skills of health professionals and help different services in the ways they work together.

5 ways to better patient care

1. Family members can help with your care, as Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital shows.

2. Get health niggles checked out early; don’t wait until you’re really ill. This applies even if, like Gordon Richardson, you think it may be nothing to do with your heart.

3. If you’re not happy about something, speak up. Even the best health services can improve by listening to patients and carers, as both Barts and Liverpool hospitals have shown.

4. Take an active role in your own care to help you feel in control and lead to better care. You can ask questions to improve your understanding of your condition. Call the Heart Matters Helpline with your questions on 0300 330 3300, or email hearthelpline@bhf.org.uk

5. Your experiences can help improve care for others. The BHF’s Heart Voices is a network of people affected by heart disease who want to influence heart health services. Find out more at the Heart Voices website or call 020 7554 0194.

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