The £5 heart test that could save your life

New £545 Million Super Hospital Opens Its Doors To Its First PatientsA simple £5 heart test could save your life - particularly for thousands of women. The good news is that the test could be available on the NHS within months.

It could mean the risk of misdiagnosis being rapidly cut - the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) NHS watchdog reckons up to 50,000 patients may be wrongly diagnosed a year - even freeing up valuable bed space long term.

Cutting the risk

The NHS watchdog says the new test measures the levels of troponin, a protein, in the blood of people suspected of having a heart attack. If you have a mild attack and are correctly diagnosed, it means surgery or blood thinning drugs can be used quickly, cutting the risk of a more serious attack later on.

NHS staff often measure suspected heart attacks with ECGs or blood tests. However there's often worry of misdiagnosis - mild heart attacks can be followed up by much more serious ones - that particularly hit women.

Dr Mike Knapton of the British Heart Foundation told the Mail that "if these tests were to become routinely used they would help remove some of the doubt and uncertainty that can surround the diagnosis of a heart attack."

How affordable?

However, it's not easy to be Nice. Created by the Labour government, Nice is the body which decides which treatments and drugs are affordable for the NHS. With huge pressure on resources, the body has to make very tricky decisions on the availability of drugs - from cancer to Alzheimer's.

For example, last month it became known a new breast cancer drug, Kadcyla, could extend life by six months. But it will not be available through the NHS because Nice says it's too pricey: Kadcyla supplies an average 5.8 extra months of life but at £90,000 per patient, it's unaffordable.

"Kadcyla," Emma Pennery from charity Breast Cancer Care, told the Telegraph, "can mean those facing limited treatment options live longer and with fewer severe side effects, such as being sick, vastly improving their quality of life."

Scottish vs English

Nice also recently rejected Zaltrap which treats advanced metatstatic bowel cancer. However Zaltrap has been approved in Scotland (the equivalent Nice body in Scotland is the Scottish Medicines Consortium).

Judging how cost-effective a drug is Nice uses a formula called the quality-adjusted life years measurement, or the 'QALY'. In accountancy-speak, cost effectiveness is Pound-Per-QALY.

"Each drug is considered on a case-by-case basis," says Nice. "Generally, however, if a treatment costs more than £20,000-30,000 per QALY, then it would not be considered cost effective." However this Nice advice was published in 2010 - and the QALY cost-equation remains the same.

For the moment, Nice says its guidance "is still in draft with [a] final decision not due to made by NICE until October. Until this time, it will be down to individual Trusts to decide whether or not to use troponin tests," an NHS official confirmed in a statement.