Thousands of lives saved by ‘transformative’ drugs rollout, says NHS

The initiative was said to be ‘part of a major NHS drive to prevent ill health in the first place’ (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
The initiative was said to be ‘part of a major NHS drive to prevent ill health in the first place’ (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Thousands of lives have been saved following the rollout of certain blood thinners on the NHS, its chief executive has said.

The four drugs – apixaban, dabigatran, edoxaban, and rivaroxaban – are known as direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) and are recommended to treat patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

About 1.5 million people in England are living with AF, according to the NHS, which is a condition that can cause an irregular and abnormally fast heartbeat, leading to stroke.

Since January 2022, about 460,000 more people have started taking DOACs, with more than 24 million prescriptions written.

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NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard described the rollout as a ‘monumental step forward’ (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The NHS said this had prevented an estimated 17,000 strokes and 4,000 deaths in England.

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said the rollout was a “monumental step forward in providing the best possible care for patients with cardiovascular conditions”.

Speaking ahead of the King’s Fund annual conference on Thursday, she added: “It’s outstanding news that these drugs have potentially helped save thousands of lives already and prevented many more people from suffering the serious and often debilitating effects of strokes.

“It is also part of a major NHS drive to prevent ill health in the first place – we want to reduce the number of people living with major illness and save thousands more lives and from the rollout of these drugs to blood pressure checks in barber shops and supermarkets, we are ensuring we are doing all we can to achieve this.

“This incredible progress has not only been transformative for patients and their families but is another vital example of the NHS using its purchasing power to deliver the latest life-saving medicines for our patients at affordable prices for the taxpayer.”

In 2019, the National Cardiovascular Disease Prevention System Leadership Forum – which includes NHS England – said it would aim to treat 90% of patients with AF with DOACs by 2029, but this milestone has already been met.

John Maingay, director of policy and influencing at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: “By helping more people with atrial fibrillation get the right treatment at the right time, NHS England is making great progress towards its goal of reducing stroke deaths, as laid out in the Long Term Plan.

“Better detecting and treating risk factors for stroke, such as atrial fibrillation, can considerably reduce early death.”