Multi-million pound help for heart patients in Norfolk after new suite opens at hospital

The opening of the Electrophysiology Suite at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. David Spo

The opening of the Electrophysiology Suite at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. David Spooner and Dr Julian Boullin. - Credit: Keiron Tovell Photography

Heart patients from Norfolk will no longer have to travel to other parts of the country to undergo vital treatment which could mean the difference between life and death, following the opening of a new multi-million pound suite.

The opening of the Electrophysiology Suite at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The opening of the Electrophysiology Suite at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. - Credit: Keiron Tovell Photography

The state-of-the art cardiac electrophysiology suite was officially unveiled at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital last night.

The opening of the Electrophysiology Suite at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Unveiling

The opening of the Electrophysiology Suite at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Unveiling of the plaque by NNUH Chairman John Fry and Dr Iain Brooksby. - Credit: Keiron Tovell Photography

It is the culmination of a campaign which started more than two years ago to help raise hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy equipment to treat potentially life-threatening heart rhythm disorders through a procedure known as electrophysiology (EP).

EP is a technique developed to identify the short circuits within the heart which can cause abnormal rhythms and to tackle the problems.

Previously people have had to travel to other specialist centres elsewhere in the country, like Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, to undergo EP, but now they will only have to travel to Norwich meaning lives will be saved and quality of life for those people suffering from cardiac problems will be improved.

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Dr Iain Brooksby, chairman of the Norfolk Heart Trust whose Sparks4Hearts appeal has helped raise more than £400,000 towards the suite since November 2010 said he was 'absolutely delighted' it had opened.

He said: 'I'm absolutely sure that this will help save lives. I think there are two things of life - quantity of life and quality. It will also significantly improve the quality of life for people who suffer from various electric problems with the heart.'

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Dr Brooksby said the suite was another success in terms of the ongoing work by the cardiac team at the Norfolk and Norwich.

He said: 'Increasingly the cardiac department at the Norfolk and Norwich is able to develop technology which wasn't available anywhere in the UK or only in very specialist centres.

'Gradually things become more managed, there's been quite a significant development in the department over the past 10 years with Balloons for Hearts Appeal and now Sparks4Hearts which is all good news for patients in Norfolk because they don't have to go to Papworth or London or other centres in the UK.

'For a patient who lives in Cromer, Papworth is a long way away - it's more than 100 miles. If you go from Cromer to Papworth and back you can hardly do it in a day whereas at least you can get to Norwich and back in a day.'

Dr Brooksby thanked members of the public for helping to turn the dream of an EP suite at the hospital into a reality.

He said: 'In November 2010 the NHT launched the Sparks4Hearts appeal to raise £400,000 to enable the NNUH to purchase equipment to treat heart rhythm disorders.

'The NHT guaranteed £100,000 from its own resources and we are delighted to be able to report that, thanks to the hard work and generosity of the people of Norfolk, enough of the remaining £300,000 has now been raised to enable the purchase of the equipment and for the EP lab to open for business.'

The EP procedure is ccarried out by Dr Julian Boullin, a consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist, who has worked at the N&N for the past two years.

Dr Boullin has been conducting this type of procedure at the hospital before, but with a temporary set up. He and said the arrival of a purpose-built suite, complete with specialist equipment was great news for both the N&N and patients.

He said: 'It means we provide this service now for our Norfolk patients and people can have the procedure here now meaning they don't have to go off to other centres.'

Dr Boullin, who expects to carry out about 160 of the procedures a year, said EP helps deal with problems with the electronics of the heart suffered by patients who experience palpitations and awareness of their heart racing.

The problems can affect a broad range of people, from teenagers to those in their 90s, and in some cases can be life-threatening.

Dr Boullin said: 'It is not life-threatening for tThe majority of patients, but there are a small number of patients that are potentially and I certainly think having this expertise at the N&N is a significant advantage to patients and means there's no delay in having that expert opinion.'

More equipment will still be needed in the near future to continue to develop the EP service so the Sparks4Hearts appeal has been kept open and the NHT will continue its long-term commitment to provide financial support.

Dr Tim Gilbert, clinical director and consultant cardiologist at the N&N said 'We are very grateful to the NHT who had already raised £1million so that angioplasty and stenting could occur at NNUH, for raising nearly £400,000 so that we could also offer EP.'.

What is an electrophysiology study?

An electrophysiology study is a short procedure conducted in a hospital by a heart rhythm specialist (an electrophysiologist).

It enables a specialist to analyse the heart's electrical system and to determine the cause of abnormal heart rhythms. It will assist in making treatment decisions.

It is usually performed using local anaesthetic. Small needle-punctures are made at the top of the legs that allow access to the heart via the veins. Fine wires, which are electrical recording catheters, are then passed through and positioned within the heart.

Once the wires are in position, the doctor is able to record the electrical activity from specific areas of the heart. Extra beats are also delivered using an external pacemaker, which may bring on palpitations. It is possible to put the heart back into normal rhythm within a few seconds.

Case study - David Spooner

Norwich father of one David Spooner is a real-life example of the benefits of Electrophysiology and says his 'life had been changed' as a result of the procedure.

Three months ago Mr Spooner, 64, who lives in the Dereham Road area, suffered a nasty turn, became faeint and was treated by paramedics who discovered his heart rate was racing at 130 beats per minute.

The married cleaner was initially treated for the condition but suffered a re-occurrence of the problem just a few days later when he found himself having difficulty breathing.

Again he was treated for the condition but after further problems - a total of about five in just three months - Mr Spooner underwent the EP procedure a couple of weeks ago where the problem was identified and corrected in the same day.

Mr Spooner, who is well on the road to recovery, said he was delighted he could have the procedure in Norwich and was eternally grateful to Dr Julian Boullin and the team at the N&N who conducted the procedure.

He said: 'From my point of view it's been an absolute Godsend - I can't speak highly enough of the procedure and the consultant.

'It's completely changed my life. Before this it felt like I...I was running a marathon 24 hours a day.

' - I had visions that because the medication wasn't working that I would be in hot sweats all the time but since the procedure it's changed my life. I'm so grateful to everyone at the hospital.'

Mr Spooner, who was had been invited asked to attend last night's official unveiling of the EP suite, said he would not have missed it for the world.

He said: 'If the Queen had given me a knighthood on the same night she wouldn't have seen me. What they have at the N&N is absolutely fantastic.'

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