Practices should check for heart valve disease during flu jab visit, say GPSIs

GPs should use flu jab clinics as an opportunity to screen elderly patients for heart valve disease while they are in the surgery, according to GP cardiology experts.

Guidance launched by charity Heart Valve Voice, written by GPs, says GPs should ‘routinely’ use a stethoscope on patients over 65 to detect the murmurs associated with heart valve disease.

GPs should take advantage of patients visiting the practice at the time of the flu jab, NHS health check and new patient registrations to perform checks, it recommends.

The two key recommendations are designed to ‘ensure primary care physicians are better equipped’ to handle valve disease without overwhelming them at a time when they already face ‘immense pressures’.

On average, GPs use their stethoscope on less than two fifths of patients presenting with symptoms of heart valve disease, despite it being one of the first key protocols in detecting it, the guidance said.

Heart valve disease

The guidelines are the first to recommend best practice for dealing with heart valve disease. Dr Matt Fay, a Bradford GP with special interest in cardiology and joint author of the guidance, called on NICE to look into the disease.

'It is important that NICE introduces guidelines on heart valve disease, since this will ensure that greater priority is given at CCG level to this treatable disease,' he said.

'If, in addition, appropriate funding is available to allow annual auscultation of all over 65s, we can ensure that more patients receive timely detection, referral and treatment.'

Over 1m people in the UK over the age of 65 are affected by heart valve disease and cases are often under reported because many patients simply put symptoms down to ageing.

If left untreated, life expectancy for patients with severe symptoms can be less than two years.

Photo: Gerry McLoughlin/UNP

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