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Heart surgery safer thanks to £250,000 North Staffs research project

By Meg Jorsh

North Staffordshire scientists are making heart surgery safer with a groundbreaking £250,000 study.

The research team, led by Professor Mamas Mamas, hopes to revolutionise the way patient health records are used by the NHS to prevent complications after coronary stent procedures.

Patients often have a stent – a short wire-mesh tube – inserted to treat angina or following a heart attack. It works by stretching open a narrowed or blocked artery.

Although a common procedure, it carries a small risk of complications ranging from bruising to heart attacks, strokes and even death.

Prof. Mamas and his team hope to cut this risk even further by analysing millions of records to identify the patients who experience the best outcomes and those with greatest chance of their operation going wrong.

He explained: “It’s a programme of work and my ultimate aim is that we use this data to more efficiently in a way that provides insight for the whole patient journey rather than just the short time they’re in hospital.

“Ultimately it’s about getting the right outcomes, getting the right procedures to the patient in the safest manner.”

Using ‘big data’

The massive study, which started in 2011, was funded in part with a £249,983 grant from the North Staffordshire Medical Institute.

It involves millions of local, national and international records, which makes the data exceptionally accurate compared to an average-sized medical trial.

Prof Mamas said: “We’ve looked at the procedure to see if there is an optimal way of doing it, which may be related to drugs or how you actually perform the operation.

“The other thing that it’s told us is how commonly complications occur. If you’re looking at a rare outcome it’s very difficult to study that in a randomised trial – getting three complications in a thousand cases wouldn’t tell you very much.

“If you have half a million patients you can get a lot more information.”

The Professor of Cardiology, based at Keele University, has already used the data to give each UK doctor performing the procedure a safety rating, which is available for patients to view online.

His team now hopes to provide a longer-term picture of surgery outcomes by combining the separate records held by hospitals and community-based services.

Their research has already shown that post-operative bleeding is far more common than previously recognised – affecting around one in five patients compared to the previous statistic of one in 20.

He added: “In the past this information wasn’t collected electronically. You wouldn’t have the whole of the UK’s collected data on a particular procedure, the computers simply weren’t there.

“The challenge that still remains is comingling the data. I can tell you what are the outcomes of these procedures in hospitals, but I can’t tell you what happens after patients are discharged, because it isn’t shared across the data sets.”

The North Staffordshire Medical Institute is a charity funded by public donations that provides grants for vital medical research in the Staffordshire area.

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