NHS England are dramatically scaling up the use of direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs), with more than 600,000 patients set to benefit over the next three years.

The drug, which treats and prevents blood clots in patients with atrial fibrillation (AF), could prevent more than 20,000 strokes and 5,000 deaths, according to NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard.

She said: “The agreements struck by NHS England will save thousands of lives and prevent many more people suffering the debilitating effects of strokes by making this treatment available to hundreds of thousands more patients.”

She added that the health service is “determined to keep delivering more innovation and greater efficiency in patients’ care” all the while tackling the backlog of care caused by the pandemic.

Treatment with DOACs could prevent more than 20,000 strokes and 5,000 deaths

The agreement comes after NICE recommended DOACs as being more effective for the prevention of AF-related stroke than other anticoagulants.

The NHS hope that the new deal will make expanding access to DOACs more affordable, saving money for both the health service and the taxpayer from the reduction in strokes.

The previous standard of anticoagulation treatment involved people needing to regularly attend their GP surgery or hospital for frequent monitoring. But treatment with a DOAC often only requires people to attend an annual review of their medicines.

NHS England national specialty adviser for cardiovascular disease prevention Helen Williams said: “The new agreement for these drugs is good news for the estimated 1.5 million people in England with atrial fibrillation, which is an irregular heart rhythm that causes one in five strokes.

“Not only is stroke one of the biggest killers in our country, but it leads to life-changing and often devastating long-term harm for many others, so by ensuring these drugs are made available for all people with AF who are at risk of stroke, the NHS will not only prevent serious harm to the people affected, but avoid the need for aftercare which puts additional pressure on the health service.”

AI technology could help to detect potentially fatal heart conditions

The NHS has also announced that a £40 million investment will be made in ‘Detect, Protect and Perfect’ pathway initiatives, which will help identify people with AF and move them onto effective and appropriate treatment.

As part of this initiative, new technology that could help to improve diagnosis and treatment will be tested. Currently, NHSX is testing wearable patches that use AI technology to analyse heart rate, helping to diagnose potentially fatal heart conditions.

The technology provides clinicians with all the information they need to make a quick diagnosis and start treatment without the need for patients to undergo lots of tests and hospital visits.