Jill Dury, Practice Nurse at Springwell Medical Group

Patients in Sunderland can now benefit from direct access to Ambulatory Electrocardiogram (ECG) services at their local GP practices. Launched by Sunderland GP Alliance, this new service reduces waiting times and helps diagnose potential conditions earlier.

Atrial fibrillation (AF), is an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid and irregular beating. Most episodes have no symptoms but can start as brief periods of abnormal beating. Early diagnosis is important as the disease is associated with an increased risk of heart failure and stroke.

In Sunderland it is estimated that around 2000 people may have undiagnosed Atrial Fibrillation. One of the ways the condition can be detected is with an ECG, which typically involves GPs referring a patient to a hospital or one of the Primary Care Centres to undertake the test. The process of obtaining an appointment, having the ECG test and waiting for the results being sent back to the GP can take between 4 to 8 weeks for a priority referral, much longer for other referrals.

With the recent launch of a Community Ambulatory 24-72 hour heart ECG service, introduced by Sunderland GP Alliance, patients can now be referred to a local GP practice for an ECG without the need to be referred to a hospital. This provides a much more efficient service removing the lengthy waiting times for an appointment and results. In most cases the whole process can be completed within 5 to 7 days.

Tracey Teasdale, Project Manager at Sunderland GP Alliance said;

“Sunderland GP Alliance aims to provide Enhanced Primary Care by developing a range of co-ordinated, integrated, community based services which focusses on the care of patients. The launch of our Ambulatory ECG service within the General Practice community is a great example of this. The new service allows patients to receive quicker appointments, with all test results being accompanied by a cardiac physiologist’s report to the referring GP.”

The service was launched in June and operates on a hub and spoke basis. Selected hub sites have been set up in accessible locations across the city of Sunderland, ensuring a presence in every locality. This means that there are a number of GP practices able to provide and fit the ECG monitor on behalf of patients from other practices’. This allows patients’ to choose the hub that is more convenient to them to have the test.

Springwell Medical Group based in Sunderland is one of the GP practices providing the ECG service. Dr. James Bell from Springwell Medical Group commented;

“During the short time the Ambulatory ECG service has been in operation we have already seen massive benefits to our patients. One patient mentioned how quick and efficient the service was, and how delighted they were that they did not have to wait for a referral to hospital for tests and then wait for the results.”

Jill Dury, Practice Nurse at Springwell Medical Group, who regularly uses the ECG equipment commented;

“The technology itself is really easy to use and unobtrusive allowing me to quickly fit the device and upload the results for analysis. For our own practice this has been fantastic in helping improve the high level of service we provide to our patients. The fact that we are one of the hubs supporting other GPs practices’ in Sunderland ensures these patient benefits are passed to practices’ throughout the city as well.”

Sunderland GP Alliance, a GP Membership body, is one of the emerging federations that helps GP practices respond to the changing NHS landscape. By working collaboratively at scale, the Alliance facilitates the delivery of standard and complex, system based, proactive and sustainable primary care to the residents of the City of Sunderland. The introduction of the ECG service is an excellent example of how collaborative working can benefit GPs and patients.

The ECG service will run within the localities until the end of March 2017, after which Sunderland GP Alliance will evaluate this example of primary care working collaboratively at scale.