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A rapid blood test could diagnose a heart attack within 15 minutes of a patient arriving at A&E, a major trial has found.

A study found the test, developed by British scientists, was twice as accurate as the existing one used by the NHS.

Crucially, it could mean thousands of patients are given the all-clear and sent home within quarter of an hour of arriving at A&E. Currently, patients complaining of chest pain have to wait at least three hours, and many are kept in overnight for observation.

Not only would the test reassure worried patients and their families, but it would ease pressure on hospitals, free up beds and save the NHS millions a year. The British researchers, whose work is published in the Circulation medical journal, hope it could be rolled out within five years.

Researcher Dr Tom Kaier, a cardiologist at King’s College London, said: ‘It is important to work out early who has had a heart attack and who hasn’t. We see patients in hospital who have to stay for further tests as a result of a mildly abnormal blood test – this is stressful and often unnecessary.

‘Our research shows that the new test has the potential to reassure many thousands more patients with a single test.’ Some 188,000 people have heart attacks in Britain each year. But more than a million a year arrive at hospitals complaining of chest pains, the vast majority of which are not serious.

Dr Kaier estimates that his own hospital, St Thomas’s in central London, the test would save £800,000 a year in reduced admissions and free up 2,500 beds for the neediest patients.

Doctors currently have to wait at least three hours before they can diagnose a heart attack, and they have to repeat tests for a period of at least six hours before an attack can be ruled out and a patient discharged.

The heart attack blood test currently used by the NHS – called a troponin test – is not definitive for most patients, meaning up to 85 per cent require an ECG scan and often have to stay in for monitoring. The new test, which looks for a protein called cardiac myosin-binding protein C or cMyC, is quicker, more sensitive and better at detecting damage.

The research team carried out blood tests for troponin and cMyC on nearly 2,000 people with chest pain at hospitals in Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

The cMyC test correctly excluded a heart attack in 32 per cent of patients – up to twice as many as troponin. At 15 per cent, the heart attack detection rate was the same for both.

Professor Mike Marber, also of King’s College London, said: ‘This research is the first of its kind for cMyC. We’ve shown that this test is not only just as good as the current test for working out who has had a heart attack, but it’s also much better at working out who hasn’t.’