WORCESTERSHIRE Royal Hospital has joined an elite group of centres offering specialist treatment to correct irregular heart rhythms.

It is now one of a very few places in the country able to offer a procedure called cardiac cryoablation, which has been developed to treat an abnormal heart rhythm and restore a regular heartbeat.

Patients from the Worcestershire area previously had to travel to Coventry for the procedure to be carried out at the University Hospital there. Apart from the travelling involved, patients also had a longer wait for the procedure because they had to be fitted into the Coventry waiting list.

Thanks to the partnership between Worcestershire Acute Hospital NHS Trust and the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust (UHCW), patients can now receive a local service.

A trust spokesman said cardiologists from Worcester had gone to Coventry to do the treatment there while a couple of the Coventry hospital surgeons came to Worcester to be on hand for the first ones in the city.

“They have helped us to get the facilities and procedures in place here,” he said. “It is led by Dr Will Foster, our consultant cardiologist who has performed the procedure on our patients at Coventry.”

Worcestershire cardiologists starting carrying out cardiac ablation procedures last March, initially just performing the simplest heart rhythm procedures. But this new development has allowed specialists to carry out the advanced cryoablation procedure for the first time, which is expected to help more than 50 people with serious heart rhythm problems in the first year.

The new procedure began last week at Worcestershire Royal Hospital for patients with atrial fibrillation. This treatment is the most complex heart procedure carried out in the county.

It involves placing tiny wires inside the heart via the top of the leg to measure the heart's electrical activity. Freezing techniques are then used on the area of the heart causing the abnormal heart rhythm, to alter the affected cells and attempt to restore a regular heartbeat for the patient.

Dr Foster said: “This is fantastic news for patients who will benefit from shorter waiting times, reduced travel and from receiving a local service, closer to home.

“Traditionally these kinds of cases are only done in large cardiothoracic surgical centres. Thanks to close working with UHCW we have been able to extend the type and number of cases we do in Worcestershire to include these more complex cases.”

Nicola Brewster, heart arrhythmia specialist nurse, said: “Being able to offer this procedure in the county for the first time is wonderful news for arrhythmia patients. Our patients who require this treatment have previously had to travel to Coventry for the procedure but now can get treated and get back home more quickly and easily.”

The first patient to undergo the procedure in Worcestershire, Josephine Griffiths, said: “I was originally due to go to Coventry for this procedure so when I found out it would be at Worcester I was so pleased.

“It’s great to be able to get the treatment locally. I’m sure it will be a huge relief for anyone who is able to have the operation more locally to them.”

Patients undergoing this treatment can usually go home the same day if it has been conducted in the morning. Patients on the list later in the day may have to stay in hospital overnight before discharge the next day.

The trust spokesman confirmed that the process has a 70 per cent long term success rate in correcting abnormal heart rhythm. Once the cardiac cryoablation has been performed, patients have follow-up appointments to check on how they responded to it. If a patient needs a repeat procedure they would have to go to the hospital at Coventry for a different technique.