The lives of more than 1,000 Londoners a year could be saved by the opening of the UK’s biggest heart centre, its executive director claimed today.

Professor Charles Knight said the merger of three cardiac units into the £234 million Barts Heart Centre, in Smithfield, would lead to huge advances in care due to the number of specialists under one roof.

Heart disease is the UK’s number one killer, accounting for one in four deaths – 160,000 Britons a year. “In the East End, rates of heart disease are very high,” Professor Knight said.

“If we look at the three million population of east London, we estimate that if we brought the rate of heart disease death down to the UK national average, that would save us 1,000 deaths a year. That is why we exist as a heart centre – to try and achieve that.”

More than 150 patients suffering a heart attack – a blockage in a heart artery – or a more serious cardiac arrest (where the heart stops beating) have been treated since the heart centre received its first emergencies on April 14.

Formed from the merger of services at the London Chest Hospital, the Heart Hospital and those already on the St Bartholomew’s site, it is one of seven heart attack centres in London credited with a “revolution” in cardiac survival since their formation in 2010.

Research last year found that 66 per cent of patients taken to a heart attack centre survive – more than double the rate for those taken to a conventional A&E unit.

As a centre of excellence for congenial heart disease, Barts Heart Centre will treat 80,000 patients a year, from emergency interventions to multiple heart bypass and aortic valve surgery. It has 10 theatres, 10 catheter labs, 250 general cardiac beds and 58 critical care beds.

“This is the first time we have got the opportunity for a proper cardiac arrest centre,” Professor Knight said. “At the London Chest Hospital, we just had people like me – coronary interventionists. We didn’t have specialists in electrical rhythms of the heart. Now we have cardiac surgeons, anaesthetists, electrophysiologists and interventionists all under one roof.”

Director of cardiac nursing Louise Crosby said: “It’s brilliant. The building is just fantastic. I feel really, really lucky to be working here. We have got a great team. I think we can make this really good.”

Patient Barbara Boswell, 83, from Woodford Green, was being released six days after undergoing a heart bypass. “I was given the option: have the operation or a heart attack,” she told me. “I didn’t realise I was one of the first patients. It’s quite an honour – it’s a marvellous place.”

In its first three weeks, it has met the NHS target of performing coronary angioplasty – the insertion of a balloon in a blocked artery – within 150 minutes from a 999 call on about 85 per cent of occasions.

A second “door to balloon” target – from the patient arriving at the door of the hospital to undergoing the procedure within 90 minutes – has been met in 100 per cent of cases. Professor Knight believes this can be cut to 60 minutes in some cases.