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Norfolk thrown a heart lifeline

PUBLISHED: 09:23 01 April 2009 | UPDATED: 10:45 07 July 2010

A new "accident and emergency department" for heart attack victims opening in Norfolk next week is set to help save dozens of lives a year.

Offering seven-day-a-week, round-the-clock care, it will make revolutionary treatment available in the crucial period immediately after an attack.

A new “accident and emergency department” for heart attack victims opening in Norfolk next week is set to help save dozens of lives a year.

Offering seven-day-a-week, round-the-clock care, it will make revolutionary treatment available in the crucial period immediately after an attack.

The instant access to the angioplasty procedure to unblock damaged arteries will also help patients recover quicker and improve their long-term quality of life.

It is expected to cut the death rate from the most deadly kind of heart attacks in half, bringing treatment in Norfolk up to the standard of the best in the country. It will also cut the length of hospital stay for hundreds of heart attack patients, who will be ready to go home in three to four days rather than five to seven.

It is work that might never have happened were it not for generous Norfolk residents who raised money for a Balloons4Hearts appeal to open an angioplasty unit at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

From Monday, patients who have a heart attack in central Norfolk will be taken straight to the N&N for life-saving procedure called primary angioplasty. It restores blood flow to the heart by inflating a small balloon in the artery and can be done through an artery in the leg or arm, without open-heart surgery. This already happens as a planned treatment for angina, but has not generally been used in emergencies, straight after a heart attack, until now.

And from June the N&N will take patients from further afield, including east and west Norfolk and Suffolk. With Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire, it will be the heart attack centre for the region, and patients will be taken direct by ambulance crews to whichever is nearest or more convenient.

The Norfolk heart attack centre will for the first time offer treatment 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from Monday. The centre is part of nationwide changes to improve heart attack treatment, which the government wants to see in place by the end of next year.

The death rate for this type of heart attack, the most deadly form known as a “stemi”, is expected to halve from 8pc to 4pc. Currently the N&N sees 300 such patients a year, but the figure will increase dramatically from June.

Fifteen to 20 new staff have been taken on, including consultant cardiologists, dieticians and specialist nurses.

Currently paramedics give heart attack victims clot-busting drugs in the ambulance before taking them to the nearest hospital. Some patients have had to be transferred to Papworth as an emergency, while others may have to have an operation after spending several days in hospital to see if the clot-busting has worked.

Interventional cardiologist Tim Gilbert said: “It will be better care for patients, and it makes it less likely that they will die from their heart attack.”

The new service has cost several millions to set up, but would probably still not have been possible if generous Norfolk people had not raised more than £1m through Balloons4Hearts to equip a angiography suite at the hospital.

Project manager Paul Creasy said: “Balloons4Hearts has helped a lot. It would have been difficult to set this up without that.”

Leslie Tickle, 66, from Barnham Broom, a retired UEA professor, was one of the first people to have primary angioplasty at the N&N, where it has been a very rare procedure up until now.

He said: “It was wonderful. They didn't mess about, they did what they needed to do and got on with it. I watched the whole thing on screen. I saw the probe going in, the clot being removed, the arteries open up and I saw the flow start. I was amazed. I just lay there watching it all.

“If they hadn't done what they did in a hurry the problem would have been long term and more acute. I might not have been able to do anything. Now I am fitter than I was before I had the heart attack.”

Dr Gilbert said that ambulance service paramedics are an important part of the process, because they will need to alert the hospital to the fact that an emergency heart patient is on the way. The ambulance service will also make changes so it can take some patients further to get specialist treatment. And it is important for people to dial 999 if they suspect a heart attack, so that the team can get ready.

Neil McKay, chief executive of NHS East of England, said: “The overwhelming evidence is that patients who have suffered a heart attack have a significantly greater chance of survival and recovery if they are treated in a specialist centre staffed by specialist teams with the best equipment.”

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