The 500,000th person in the UK to receive a life-saving heart pacemaker has had the procedure in the same London hospital that undertook the first implant more than 50 years ago.

Karl Sidhu, 52, from Camberley in Surrey has had a biventricular ICD fitted, one of the latest generation of pacemakers, to help prevent a life-threatening abnormality in the electrical activity of his heart and to resynchronise his heart muscle function which is not working as well as it should be after a series of heart attacks. The procedure took place in the state-of-the-art catheter laboratories at St George’s Hospital, south west London; the same hospital which first undertook the surgery to implant a pacemaker in the UK in 1958.

During the surgical procedure, which was done under a local anaesthetic, Consultant Cardiologist and Electro-physiologist, Dr Mark Gallagher, implanted the pacemaker and the three wires involved. The device weighs 68 grams. By contrast the first pacemaker patient implanted in 1958 was a device the size of a pram wheel. As well as being much smaller, today’s pacemakers last seven years or more without a battery change, are software controlled to allow the devices to be programmed from a small external computer, and can even allow doctors to monitor the device remotely via the internet, reducing the number of follow-up hospital visits needed by a patient.

Dr David Ward, the Senior Consultant Cardiologist and Electro-physiologist at St George’s hospital said: “Implanting pacemakers has become almost routine in UK, but there is nothing routine about it for the patients. Mr Sidhu represents one of the tens of thousands of people in Britain who have had their lives improved thanks to a pacemaker and this milestone should be celebrated.”

It is possible to be exact about the total number of procedures performed in the UK thanks to the Central Cardiac Audit Database, which was instigated in 1977 as the National Pacing Database. Launched by the Department of Health and Heart Rhythm UK (formerly British Pacing Group) – a group dedicated to professional and scientific support for everyone involved in implantation and follow-up of cardiac pacemakers – the database collates data on cardiac surgery and outcomes.

Sue Jones, Pacing and ICD Service Manager at St George’s and spokesperson for Heart Rhythm UK said; “The 500,000th pacemaker implant demonstrates an enormous advance in implantable device technology compared to what was available 51 years ago. Advances in communication with the implanted devices now allow us to monitor the patient via a telephone link, improving patient convenience and safety by offering the possibility of fewer hospital visits but with greater surveillance of device performance.”

Despite 500,000 people now having received pacemakers, cardiac arrhythmias are estimated to affect more than one million people in the UK, and are consistently in the top ten reasons for hospital admission.

Trudie Lobban, Founder and Trustee of the Arrhythmia Alliance, the coalition body dedicated to raising public and professional awareness of cardiac arrhythmias, said: “The UK was one of the first countries in the world to start implanting devices to treat heart rhythm disorders. Despite this head-start, and the huge number we celebrate today, we have fallen behind other European countries in the use of pacemakers.

“The work of the Arrhythmia Alliance is dedicated to ensuring many more patients can have their lives transformed by quick diagnosis and treatment, just like Mr Sidhu.”

St George’s Hospital has one of the largest cardiology departments in the UK, and the department has been at the forefront of pacemaker developments for 50 years. Professor John Camm, Professor of the Division of Cardiac and Vascular Sciences at St George’s University of London, which shares its site with St George’s Hospital, and President of the Arrhythmia Alliance has overseen many of these advances. He said: “This is a landmark for the way we care for people with heart rhythm irregularities. We need to get better at diagnosing and treating patients earlier but I strongly believe we’ll get to one million implants in less than half the time it took to get to 500,000.”

Notes to editors

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