3D heart scans to see patients treated five times faster on NHS

3D scanners will save ‘thousands of lives’, NHS England medical director says

Andy Gregory
Tuesday 04 May 2021 00:51
An ambulance crew remove their PPE after responding to a false alarm call for a heart attack in Portsmouth
An ambulance crew remove their PPE after responding to a false alarm call for a heart attack in Portsmouth

New technology being rolled out on the NHS will “rapidly improve” the rate at which patients are diagnosed with life-threatening coronary heart disease – slashing the wait for treatment by around five times.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to benefit each year from the new technology, which can turn a regular CT scan into a 3D image, allowing doctors to diagnose patients in just 20 minutes, according to NHS England.

Until now, patients have had to undergo an invasive and time-consuming angiogram in hospital.

As a result of the new HeartFlow 3D scanning technology – first introduced in April and estimated to save the NHS some £391 per patient – people are now set to be seen, diagnosed and treated around five times faster.

Some 100,000 people will be eligible to use the potentially life-saving technology over the next three years, with a level of access NHS England said was greater than anywhere else in Europe, the US or Japan.

The British Heart Foundation welcomed the advance as “particularly important” in light of the disruption to the delivery of normal care to patients with heart and circulatory diseases during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new technology has already had a “meaningful impact at our hospitals, improving the diagnosis and treatment of the leading cause of death”, said Dr Derek Connolly, consultant interventional cardiologist at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust.

After diagnosis, treatments range from surgery or medication, to having a stent fitted. Patients with less serious conditions can be given healthy lifestyle tips or cholesterol-lowering medication.

“For every five patients who have a cardiac CT and a HeartFlow analysis, four patients go home knowing they don’t need anything else,” Dr Connolly said. “Half of those patients will be on cholesterol tablets because they have early disease, and the other half will have normal coronary arteries.”

The technology is part of the NHS Long Term Plan aim to cut the number of heart attacks and strokes by 150,000.

“By rapidly improving the rate we diagnose and treat those with a heart condition we will save thousands of lives and ensure as well as delivering the most successful vaccination programme in health service history, the NHS is able to deliver routine services even quicker than before the pandemic,” said NHS medical director Stephen Powis.

HeartFlow had been a “huge success” in clinical trials and would now help “tens of thousands of people a year receive quick diagnosis and treatment and ultimately save lives”, said Matt Whitty, director of innovation and life sciences for NHS England.

Welcoming wider access to the technology, Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This will benefit patients and the NHS by preventing unnecessary admissions for angiograms and quickly providing information that allows patients to be put on the best treatment pathway for their condition.

“This is particularly important at a time when we are dealing with the challenges that Covid-19 has caused to the delivery of normal care to patients with heart and circulatory diseases.”

Additional reporting by PA

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