Friday 7th February 2020

Having set out our list of pledges for 2020 in my previous blog it is now down to us to turn those pledges into reality. January presented me with two opportunities to not only talk with clinicians and industry leaders about their plans for the year ahead but also develop our own strategies based on these discussions. 

Last year we published our Welsh Report in the Welsh Assembly, which detailed barriers in detection and treatment of valve disease in Wales, as well as significant inequalities in access to innovative treatments compared to the rest of the UK.

On the back of the report, I met with Dr John Goodfellow the National Clinical Lead for the Wales Cardiac Network and a key member of the Heart Conditions Implementation Group (HCIG) to discuss the cardiovascular landscape in Wales and their plans for 2020. This Group is run by members from health boards, commissioners, professional societies and key strategic partners from across the cardiac communities within Wales.

During our discussion, Dr Goodfellow confirmed his intention to put Heart Valve Voice and valve disease on the agenda for the Heart Conditions Implementation Group meeting. Valve disease continues to lack a presence at these meetings. Whilst it’s too late for the next meeting, it will be on the agenda for the following meeting, cementing Heart Valve Voice and valve diseases place at the table of a key discussion group in Wales and improving our reach and influence.

Dr Goodfellow also agreed that heart valve disease should be recognised in the new Heart Conditions Delivery Plan. This follows on from heart valve disease being included in the NHS England 10 Year Plan. This type recognition puts the disease at the centre of important discussions and opens doors for us, and our patients. The mention in the Heart Conditions Delivery Plan means that we can work alongside Dr Goodfellow and the Welsh Assembly with our Gold Standard to ensure that this plan is actioned.

Dr Goodfellow shares many of our visions for valve disease care. He is very keen on community access to echo and digital stethoscopes and will support our piloting/testing in Wales. After the commitments we made to helping to improve valve disease care in Wales after our Welsh Report, I am confident that working with our Gold Standard alongside Dr Goodfellow we will be able to make significant changes in 2020 to ensure improved patient experience.

A few days later I attended The British Cardiovascular Care Society’s conference in London and it gave me a fascinating insight into what clinicians and industry leaders have planned for 2020. The lengthily discussion on whether TAVI should now be the default treatment for patients with symptomatic aortic stenosis, demonstrated that access to innovative treatments will be the focal point of a lot of work done in cardiovascular care this year.

TAVI is a minimal invasive technique which can be used to replace damaged aortic valves. This relatively new technology has proven to reduce recovery times, lead to less scarring and carries less risk of infection. It offers patients a quicker path back to normal life and is an optimal pathway for patients who care for loved ones.

Barriers to this pathway are increased cost and limited access. While traditional surgery is still preferred for young patients, the argument needs to be made for overall long-term economic benefit and patient experience. Whilst the data continues to be collected and improved about this technology – it is safe. If there is an option to give patients the same treatment without the same risk of infection and with less scarring, then it should always be on the table.

In 2020 we expect to see access improve and we will be working with Trusts to support this. We have recently celebrated Hull’s first TAVI procedure and in 2020 we hope to see many more patients benefit from this new technology. Change is always incremental, but by empowering our patients with the information they need on this subject and supporting Trusts as they seek to incorporate it into their patient pathway options, we are confident of improving access in 2020.

In meeting with Dr Goodfellow and attending the British Cardiovascular Care Society’s conference I’m confident that we are well on track to implement our key strategic plans to ensure that we make good on our pledges for 2020. By working with our Gold Standard of Care alongside clinicians in Wales we will improve patient pathways, and by championing innovative treatment options, improving the quality of information patients receive on them and supporting improved access to these treatments, we will strive to empower patients to decide what pathway is most suitable for them.