Stethoscope newGPs should be using their stethoscopes more during the winter ‘flu jab season, according to new guidance by charity Heart Valve Voice.

The guidance aims to support GPs when diagnosing and referring patients with heart valve disease, and should also be applied routinely when people attend NHS health checks and when registering new patients.

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

Heart valve disease is a serious condition that affects more than one million over 65s in the UK. If left untreated, life expectancy for patients with severe symptoms can be less than 2 years. When identified, referred and treated early, patients can return to a good quality of life and a normal longevity.

The GP guidance – the first of its kind to discuss heart valve disease – offers practical advice on the timely assessment and appropriate treatment of the disease by GPs, including step-by-step instructions on diagnosis, examination and referral. On launching the guidance, Heart Valve Voice recognised the immense pressures on GPs and made two key recommendations to ensure primary care physicians are better equipped to handle valve 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,” said Dr Matthew Fay, GPSI Cardiology and joint author of the guidance document. “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.”

Professor Ben Bridgewater, Cardiac Surgeon, University Hospital of South Manchester and the Chair of Heart Valve Voice, said that he hopes the heart valve disease guidance will “improve the under-diagnosis and under-treatment of heart valve disease in the UK. Referral and treatment barriers for heart valve disease exist throughout all levels of the NHS and this GP guidance is the first step in addressing this.” 

For information on heart valve disease, the charity and future events visit www.heartvalvevoice.co.uk