Dr Mike Holmes, Vice Chair of the Royal College of GPs, has responded to new research funded by the British Heart Foundation.
He said: “Heart failure is a very serious condition and one that GPs are acutely attuned to look out for in patients – but in the early stages of the disease, some symptoms can be vague and more likely to indicate other, more common conditions.
“Nevertheless, GPs and our teams will routinely monitor our patients at-risk of heart disease through cholesterol and blood pressure testing – as well as advocating healthy lifestyles for patients, and offering advice to help them make lifestyle changes that could reduce their risk of heart disease. We will take a holistic approach to care, and strive to include our patients in the decision making about their treatment, wherever possible.
“Whilst the paper shows that more patients with heart disease have had appropriate tests in primary care over the past couple of decades, even better access for GPs to diagnostic tools in the community would certainly help to improve detection of heart disease.
“Currently, GPs often have to rely on ‘red flag symptoms’ that could indicate heart failure, such as breathlessness, swelling in the legs, or general fatigue. Symptoms can be different from patient to patient, and few present with all the tell-tale signs of heart failure, which makes it difficult to identify without access to more sophisticated tests – and particularly challenging within the constraints of a standard 10-minute consultation.
“There also needs to be improved communication between hospitals and GPs which, as this research shows, can have a huge impact on the quality of follow-up care for heart failure patients, and the starting point for this will be greatly enhanced, joined up IT systems between primary and secondary care.
“Ultimately, general practice makes the vast majority of NHS patient contacts, alleviating pressures on secondary care by acting as the gateway to specialist services. We need the tools to be able to do this, which is why the College is calling for £2.5bn extra a year as part of the Prime Minister’s long-term plan for the NHS – on top of what has already been promised in NHS England’s GP Forward View, which needs to be delivered in full, and as a matter of urgency.