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Posted by on Mar 21, 2016 in 2016, Awareness, Cardiac Risk in the Young, CRY London Bridges Walk

Walk on or @CRY_UK walks alone

CRY: Team Tom 2015.

CRY: Team Tom 2015.

I’m sure many of you will already know that this year’s CRY Heart of London Bridges Walk is on June 26. Both Ellen and I very much hope you will join us by signing up here to remember Tom and Claire and to support CRY.

Because CRY really does need your support. There are still 12 young people aged 14-35 dying each week from undiagnosed heart conditions, when the vast majority could be treated.

The scale of CRY’s task was neatly encapsulated in a recent BBC West Midlands Inside Out* programme featuring the extremely resilient and articulate Nicola Everill, mother of 17-year-old Jordan Burndred who, like Tom, was one of the 12. Jordan died last year from an undiagnosed heart condition.

Nicola, her family and friends raised money for the CRY screenings featured in the report and are campaigning for such screenings to be made compulsory. Amen to that. It’s a sadly all too familiar story. Leave it to the bereaved.

This happens, of course, because the medical establishment does not support cardiac screening. Thus the UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC) last summer turned down a proposal to make screening for young people compulsory.

The Inside Out team requested an interview with the UKNSC but it was declined. Instead, there was a statement from the director of programmes for the UKNSC, Dr Ann Mackie, in essence saying it was not convinced about the value of screening (presumably based on a claimed unacceptably high number of ‘false-positive’ results, a contention which CRY would dispute) and that individuals might stop exercising if they thought they were at risk.

It is a great shame that nobody from the UKNSC took part. One would have hoped that the remit of a public body included clearly transmitting its views to the public, including the evidence upon which such views are based. This the UKNSC has failed once again to do.

The view that screenings are not sufficiently accurate and could, via a false positive finding, prevent someone from exercising or destroy their ambitions in sport was also spelled out by Dr Mike Knapton of behalf of the British Heart Foundation.

While I’m not at all surprised by the UKNSC trotting out the same old ‘nothing to see here, please move along’ line, I find the BHF position more troubling. Claire and I supported the BHF before Tom’s death and continued to support it thereafter. I still support it as a charity and I’m not proposing to stop.

But with the current lack of easy access via the NHS to cardiac screening for the young, let alone a compulsory screening programme, parents and young people need still greater clarity of information. They need to be able to make an informed choice on whether to be screened or not.

In practice, given that you can’t get an NHS referral for a screening unless you have symptoms and the majority who die are asymptomatic, that means apparently healthy people having to decide whether to attend a CRY screening. The Inside Out programme won’t have helped in that decision-making process. It laid out the competing claims, nothing more.

Imagine though, that all the evidence in favour of screening were put aside – for example, the data from CRY’s  screenings, 20,000 of them in 2015 alone,  or the experience in Italy, or last year’s Harmon, Zigman and Drezner J, peerreviewed report on potentially lethal cardiac disorders in athletes – and we were left only with the evidence from the Tom and Claire’s Fund screenings. What, then, would be the answer to the question ‘Should there be a compulsory screening programme?’ Based on what we have seen and heard for ourselves, it would still be a resounding ‘Yes’.

Screening works. It saves lives. So please walk on June 26. You’re needed as much as ever.

*BBC West Midlands Inside Out programme on health is still available on BBC iPlayer. The report featuring CRY is at 20:09.