Thousands of people are set to benefit from an innovative new heart procedure to prevent strokes in younger people.
The new treatment, unveiled as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, tackles ‘hole in the heart’ – or Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) – a common condition which can trigger strokes.
Thousands of people living with PFO in England live in fear of another stroke and this potentially lifesaving procedure helps remove the risk by closing the hole, giving people with the condition peace of mind about future health risks.
The new measure, to be available across the country, is expected to benefit up to 1500 patients a year.
Tackling major killer conditions such as stroke and heart attacks is a major part of the NHS Long Term Plan published earlier this year.
Professor Stephen Powis, medical director for NHS England, said: “This truly lifesaving and life-changing procedure will now be available across the NHS, and will mean people can live without the worry of having a stroke.
“As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, we will continue to test the most advanced procedures available anywhere across the globe, collecting real world evidence to ensure NHS patients receive world-class care while delivering value for the taxpayers’ pound.”
A PFO is a small flap-like opening between the top two chambers of the heart which helps with circulation when a baby is still in the womb.
It usually closes after birth, however can stay fully or partially open increasing stroke risk, where small blood clots pass through the hole and get stuck in the arteries of the brain.
PFO usually does not cause any symptoms with the function of the heart, so it often is not picked up until someone suffers an event like a stroke or is tested for other conditions.
Most people will not require surgery to close it or medication, unless they have other conditions such as a history of stroke, or have a high risk of developing blood clots.
The new surgery involves a small device made up of two umbrellas joined at the centre put into the hole to close it up. The procedure normally takes around an hour and is performed under local anaesthetic and it costs around £8,000 per patient.
Mark MacDonald, deputy director of policy at the Stroke Association, said: “Stroke can strike anyone at any time, changing people’s lives in an instant. The condition has a huge cost to a person’s health, independence and relationships, not to mention a huge cost to our NHS and care services. All stroke survivors should have the best possible chance of preventing another stroke and any further devastating impact.
“This announcement is really welcome news: thousands could benefit from this latest procedure, and more people will be able to rebuild their lives with a reduced risk of experiencing another stroke.”
The life-changing procedure is among new treatments that are being made routinely available on the NHS.
The decision to routinely fund PFO closure comes after the procedure was assessed under NHS England’s Commissioning through Evaluation programme which builds evidence about effectiveness.
The programme enables patients to access treatments that are not usually funded by the NHS, but nonetheless show significant promise for the future, while new clinical and patient experience data are collected within a formal evaluation programme.
Others include a clip to help heart valve close, which will dramatically improve the quality of life for hundreds of patients with mitral valve disease, a degenerative heart condition that can occur with age.
‘Percutaneous Mitral Valve leaflet Repair’, also assessed via the Commissioning through Evaluation programme, is an innovative and less invasive intervention and means people who cannot be considered for open heart surgery will now have an alternative treatment option for the first time.
Funding for these two new treatments will begin imminently and are the result of NHS England’s latest specialised commissioning prioritisation process which takes place biannually to decide which new treatments to offer routinely on the NHS.
The latest additions follow the introduction earlier this year of a cutting edge procedure for unborn children with spina bifida, whose spine and spinal cord do not develop properly, allowing pregnant women to be treated closer to home and their families.
All the proposed new treatments were independently assessed for their clinical benefit and cost by the Clinical Priorities Advisory Group (CPAG) comprising doctors, health experts and patient representatives.
The next round of investment decisions for 2019/20, which will take place in November, will consider further treatments that could be introduced through the NHS in England.