Pictured above: Eileen O'Meara sits on panel at CVD conference

Very early on a briskly cold morning I set off for London by train from Runcorn to attend the National Cardiovascular Prevention Conference 2020 on the 6th February at the Oval Cricket ground. The conference attracted over 500 delegates from all across the country as well as a number of highly renown speakers and experts on CVD including the new national lead for CVD Dr Shahed Ahmad, Media Medic Sarah Jarvis, Professor Chris Bentley, and Dr Tom Frieden as well as our very own Eileen O’Meara who spoke about our systems leadership approach to BP. Eileen went on to chair a session on Physical activity and how that can reduce the risk of CVD.

National Medical Director Professor Stephen H Powis, spoke about national ambitions on the secondary prevention of CVD , the need to tackle CVD using a range of approaches, the prominence of CVD in the Long Term Plan and the potential to introduce screening of familial hypercholesteroleamia at the age of 1 year, which is currently undergoing national screening committee review.

There have been some slight changes in time scales for the arrival of CVD Prevent, a national primary care audit that will automatically extract routinely held GP data covering diagnosis and management of  high risk conditions that cause stroke, heart attack and dementia. It will offer local and national reporting in real time, and will allow practices and primary care networks to identify ways to improve outcomes for patients.

There were a range of excellent stands, I saw the Well Point Kiosk being well used,  and posters displays too, with the prize for the best going to the North of England Collaboration on approaches to CVD- so you could argue we all won.

I had originally booked to attend in order to identify best practice examples across the country but ended up leading a couple of discussion groups to talk about the work being led by Mel Roche on improving the detection and management of BP across the region, it was well attended and there was lots of praise for the Cheshire and Merseyside approach. The 2019 BP annual report was shown by Shahed Ahmad as an example of collaboration at its best- his words not mine- and I’ve already had one person  email me asking for more information about the Z cards that we use to provide people with information as well as enabling them to navigate through the community to  have  a second or further BP check done.

So what did I learn? We are constantly reminded of the importance of narrative and how one story cannot fit every situation. The famous Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie talks about the danger of a single story and I think the same applies to how we talk about the work we do. I came out from the session on physical activity feeling that I’d not learned much new about approaches other than perhaps the importance of joining up approaches and yet doctors that I had met who attended the session came out excited, saying they had learned so much and were energised to do more about linking with physical activity resources as well as how important physical activity can be. So the narrative of that session clearly resonated with them.

The most striking image for me came from a poster entitled “If you don’t diagnose Familial hypercholesterolaemia the pathologist will!” I went in for a closer view and struck up a conversation with a young lady standing nearby, it turned out that both her children have the condition and yet she had been unable to get proper genetic counselling and testing for them, despite knowing that they are at increased risk of cardiovascular events.

Familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH for short) is an inherited condition which can lead to extremely high cholesterol levels. It's passed down through families in the genes. Without treatment, FH can lead to heart disease at a very young age. But once it's been diagnosed, it can be treated with medicines and a healthy lifestyle. It’s thought that around 1 in 250 of the UK population has the condition, although many people are unaware they have it. On average in the UK, one person a day with FH has a heart attack. I asked the young lady where she lived and why she couldn’t get the test. She told me she live in Cheshire and Merseyside. It’s one of the few regions that still does not have a service.

I left the conference energised to use all the learning from the day, to follow up new contacts and explore the opportunities for greater networks but also determined that we get a service for FH in Cheshire and Merseyside.

Slides and posters from the event will be published here: https://www.healthcheck.nhs.uk/latest-news/cvd-2020-conference/