Leicester rehabilitation programmes highlighted by national charity

Two initiatives developed at Leicester’s Hospitals have been cited in the British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) new five-point plan to achieve the biggest impact for people with, or at risk of, heart and circulatory diseases.

The framework, called ‘Turning back the tide on heart and circulatory disease’, is split into five key areas for action: prevention, earlier detection, access to treatment, recovery, and technology and data science. Each section contains evidence-based recommendations to effectively tackle heart and circulatory conditions.

The two initiatives developed at Leicester’s Hospitals feature in the ‘recovery’ section of the BHF’s plan: firstly, a digital cardiac rehabilitation programme - 'Activate Your Heart' - has been developed and tested for patients recovering from a cardiac event. Secondly, breathlessness rehabilitation (which combines elements of the heart failure rehabilitation programme and the pulmonary rehabilitation programme) is for patients with chronic respiratory disease. By including the breathlessness rehabilitation programme, the paper is acknowledging that many patients will suffer from both conditions and that an exercise programme is an important intervention to help reduce the burden of their symptoms.  

Prof Nilesh SamaniProfessor Sir Nilesh Samani, BHF Medical Director, said: “We should explore more joined up models like the breathlessness rehabilitation service being trialled in Leicester. Common themes such as psychological support, poor return to work support and lifestyle adjustments could be developed into a more accessible and efficient recovery programme across a broader set of conditions.”

Prof Sally SinghProfessor Sally Singh, Head of Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation at Leicester’s Hospitals and a professor at the University of Leicester, said: “We are delighted that the BHF has highlighted two of our recent innovations in service delivery in its plan to tackle heart and circulatory disease in the UK.

“The aim of a rehabilitation programme is to support people to live healthier, more active lives, and protect them from recurrences further down the line. Through our research, we know that such services reduce disability and improve well-being, and they reduce hospital readmissions, which is of course good for the patients and beneficial for the NHS.”

Sadly, only about half of patients currently take up the offer of rehabilitation, which is traditionally offered to groups in hospitals or community facilities. To tackle this, the document recommends an expansion of new models of delivery, including digitally-supported, home-based and more personalised ‘menu-based’ approaches to increase the number of patients who access rehabilitation - potentially saving lives. Here it cites Leicester’s 'Activate Your Heart' web-based rehabilitation programme as an effective additional model for cardiac rehabilitation.

Nikki Gardiner, Clinical Lead for Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation at Leicester’s Hospitals, said: “'Activate Your Heart' offers 24/7 access to an online cardiac rehabilitation programme through a patient’s computer or mobile device. This allows patients to use the programme at a time and place convenient for them. Our evaluation of the pilot found that for some patients a web-based programme is an effective option. Further studies have also shown that patients using the programme had a better exercise capacity, reported a better quality of life and had improved dietary intake compared to a control group who did not use the web tool.”

The issue is certainly topical, with NHS England’s Chief Executive Simon Stevens stating his commitment to tackle heart and circulatory conditions by adding them as a top priority to the NHS's ten-year plan, which is due to be unveiled this year.