The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is backing the use of a new blood pressure device that can also detect atrial fibrillation (AF), potentially saving the National Health Service millions of pounds a year.

The WatchBP Home A works in a similar manner to traditional cuff monitors but looks at a patient's pulse at the same time, automatically detecting any irregularities.

AF - the most common heart rhythm disturbance - causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate, potentially leading to symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath and palpitations. 

Up to 800,000 people are thought to have AF, but the condition is often asymptomatic, leaving a significant number unaware that they have the condition and therefore without treatment. 

In guidance published this week, NICE says that using the WatchBP Home A to monitor blood pressure could boost the detection rate of AF opportunistically, thereby allowing doctors to prescribe preventative treatment to reduce the incidence of AF-related stroke.

On the economic side, the average cost of WatchBP Home is £75, but screening over 65s with the device could release savings per person of between £2.98 and £4.26 (depending on their age).

Use of the test could benefit up to 400,000 patients in England alone, saving the NHS up to £26 million a year, primarily through a reduction in the incidence of stroke and associated costs, as well as a reduction in the number of ECGs ordered because of 'false positives' given by manual tests, a spokesperson for NICE told PharmaTimes UK News.

NICE has estimated that by using the WatchBP Home device to measure blood pressure in the over 65s 74,000 people will be diagnosed with AF over the next 10 years who wouldn't normally have been picked up.