PLANS are being drawn up for a programme to replace vital heart testing and other diagnostic equipment at the Royal Gwent Hospital’s cardiology unit.

The programme, which Aneurin Bevan University Health Board chiefs hope will get underway this year, will focus on re-equipping the cardiac catheterisation lab.

It is among a range of proposals in an action plan designed to ensure heart disease services can be delivered effectively to patients in Gwent.

And the health board hopes that it can relocate the permanent pacemaker implantation service to the unit in tandem with equipment replacement.

That in turn would provide extra capacity in the catheter lab for angiography and percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI or angioplasty, a procedure to widen narrowed coronary arteries).

All health boards in Wales have been required to develop heart disease delivery plans covering the period to 2016, and the aforementioned proposals and progress on delivering them are contained in the Gwent board’s latest update report.

The lab has been established at the Royal Gwent since 2000, with a dedicated cardiology unit opening there in 2005.

A common theme during those years has been the repatriation, mainly from the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, of cardiology services for Gwent patients.

Angioplasty has been performed at the Royal Gwent unit since 2010, meaning many patients do not have to go travel out of the area to have the procedure, and bringing in a pacemaker implantation service would bring the same benefits for those who require it.

The update report details a range of developments in heart services that are either planned, being implemented, or are in place.

They cover issues such as raising awareness of healthy living choices and the development of a health trainer role to give patients practical help in reducing their risk of cardiovascular illness.

As well as this, there is the introduction of an e-referral system from primary care, so that cardiologists can more quickly prioritise referrals and decide if a patient requires a consultation, a diagnostic test, or both.