A pioneering Bradford district project to help prevent strokes in people with a common heart rhythm disorder has been showcased in a high-profile European health report.

strokeLocal GPs’ successful work with patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) – a heart rhythm disorder which can increase their risk of stroke – has led to it being featured as an example of best practice from around Europe in tackling this important public health problem.

The Bradford case study is included in the Route map for change and the European atlas on the prevention of AF-related stroke – a landmark report which aims to raise awareness of the need to improve the prevention of AF-related stroke across Europe.

Dr Matt Fay, a member of NHS Bradford Districts Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and an AF clinical specialist, has led the local project across Bradford, Airedale, Wharfedale and Craven to make sure people with AF are offered the right treatments to reduce their chance of dying from strokes.

The project has been rolled out by more than 60 GP practices across the district and has had dramatic results.

Across the three CCGs there are more than 6,000 patients living with AF. Of those, 5,000 are deemed moderate to high risk of stroke. However, before the project only 2,300 were being prescribed anticoagulant drugs such as warfarin, as a precautionary measure.

nhsThanks to the project – believed to be the first of its kind in the UK – hundreds more patients are being targeted and are now being prescribed anticoagulants. Ultimately this will result in 200 fewer strokes each year in the Bradford district.

New guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also backs Bradford’s work by advising GPs throughout the country that blood-thinning drugs like warfarin are better for patients with AF.

“AF is the second most important risk factor for stroke after blood pressure and causes at least one in every five strokes,” said Dr Fay. “AF strokes are the most debilitating and lead to more permanent disability – so it’s vital that as many GPs and other health professionals are aware of best practice to help prevent them.

“The good news is that we know when prescribed anticoagulant drugs, these strokes can be avoided. This is really important as AF is on the rise with an ageing population.

“I’m delighted that Bradford’s work is included in this report. We know that we are making a big difference locally and I’m sure that many other countries would also benefit from following our lead, just as we’re constantly learning from colleagues who are finding new ways to tackle AF-related strokes.”

AF is a major cause of stroke because it often leads to the formation of blood clots and increases the risk of strokes by up to five times. It is estimated that the condition causes around 12,500 strokes nationally each year.

New evidence shows that aspirin is not as effective as anticoagulants at preventing stroke in people with AF who are at increased risk of stroke, and is also not as safe in terms of causing bleeding. Although the risks of anticoagulation also increase with age, the evidence also shows that its benefits outweigh the risks in the vast majority of people with AF.