20 Years of Blood Pressure UK
A message from our Chairman, Professor Graham MacGregor CBE, in celebration of our 20th anniversary
Times may have changed, but our aims are the same now as they were in 2000.
We want people with high blood pressure to be better informed, with their blood pressure under control, and free from side effects. We want even greater awareness among the medical community about how high blood pressure works and how to prevent and treat it, with changes in practice taking the lessons from research out to the people who need it. And finally, we want all adults to know that by adopting a healthy lifestyle now you can prevent high blood pressure in later life, reducing your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
We’ve come a long way in the last 20 years
First of all, there is better awareness of the evidence that lowering blood pressure is hugely beneficial in preventing strokes, heart failure and heart attacks. High blood pressure is the biggest cause of death in the world. Over ten million people die because of it every year, and most of these deaths are preventable.
Through a concerted effort with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the British and Irish Hypertension Society, we managed to get this evidence out to GPs and their patients. The quality outcomes framework (QOF) made a big difference – it gave GP practices a financial incentive to improve blood pressure testing and control in their communities.
We now have a much more logical way of treating high blood pressure with medicines. The body is an incredible thing, and when you take a drug that lowers your blood pressure by one mechanism, your body will simply raise your blood pressure again by another. It’s a survival reflex. If you were to lose fluid due to an illness or injury, your body fights to raise blood pressure to perfuse your tissues with blood. But this isn’t what we want when trying to lower blood pressure to prevent disease! By taking several medicines that work through several pathways, eventually your body allows your blood pressure to come down.
Home monitoring is now known to be important in managing blood pressure. 20 years ago, we had anecdotal evidence that when people took their own blood pressure, they become more interested and involved with their health and treatment. Now there’s good evidence that home monitoring and reporting to your GP remotely gets blood pressure under better control. People feel better too. That’s why, for this years’ Know Your Numbers! Week, we encouraged everyone to check their blood pressure at home.
Recognising the role of lifestyle
We now have better evidence about the effect of salt, which directly raises blood pressure, and potassium, contained in fruit and veg, which lowers it. This allows for practical lifestyle advice for individuals as well as changes in policies for governments and organisations.
Changes in diet from the individual can make a big difference in a short time and we’re working to get this lifestyle advice out there. But as we rely more and more on readymade food, restaurant meals and takeaways, the food industry largely determines our salt intakes. The UK has had an incredibly effective salt reduction programme and this is still an important area for action.
Supporting patients, then and now
From the outset we wanted to provide support directly to patients. We formed in 2000 when the internet was in its infancy and created the best website possible. We provided an online forum where people could share experiences and ideas, we wrote a series of printed leaflets which were highly commended and continue to evolve to this day. We also have our helpline providing unbiased information to those with questions or in need of support.
It was a great strength to have the support of a board of Trustees who are all experts in blood pressure and remain a great support to this day. Professor Gareth Beevers and Nirmala Markandu played especially important roles at the inception and continue to provide advice and support in our core team. We also had a lot of patients who were very keen to be involved in the development of our resources.
Reaching those with high blood pressure
We set up our flagship campaign, Know Your Numbers! Week, with funding from the Department of Health. It was originally one day rather than a week, the idea was to have a day to draw attention to getting a blood pressure check. We won The Charity Awards (the Oscars of the charity sector) in the Healthcare and Medical Research category in 2008 for the impact we made. In 2012, we won a Guinness World Record for the most blood pressure tests in eight hours with 2,075 blood pressures taken by a team of 16 nurses based in Wales. We have had Pressure Stations giving out blood pressures in all sorts of places, even a rig in the North Sea. In total we have reached over 1.5 million people with a free blood pressure check.
At the end of 2012 we rebranded from the Blood Pressure Association to Blood Pressure UK to reflect our work across the UK. The appointment of a new CEO, Katharine Jenner, who is a Public Health Nutritionist and CEO of Action on Salt and Sugar, reinforced our focus on public health campaigning as well as providing support for patients, and this work continues to this day.
Celebrating 20 years
To mark our 20 Year Anniversary, we created our fantastic new website to make our information as accessible as possible, which has been getting great feedback. We also conducted our Focus on the Future survey which received tremendous support from our members and supporters who told us where they would like us to focus our efforts most from here. We will use the insights to guide our new strategy which we’re developing as we speak.
Over the next 20 years we want to continue what we’ve started, and do it even better. That means finding those who have high blood pressure and don’t know it and getting their blood pressure under control. There are still millions out there. There also needs to be much more effort made to find and treat those with severely raised blood pressure, as we now know that they are at much greater risk.
To put ideas into action takes funding as well as dedication. We are a small but impactful team. We don’t receive funding from pharmaceutical companies and we are funded almost entirely by membership, grants, individual donations and legacies. To reach those who need our help, your support can make a huge difference.
Thank you to all who have supported us
As we look to the years ahead and the work still to do, I would like to say thank you to the people who have worked so hard to get us where we now.
Thank you to our Trustees who provide continued support and guidance. It has been a pleasure to watch their careers evolve as they all become distinguished experts and world leaders in blood pressure research and treatment.
Thank you to our team, including those who were there at the beginning and those who are here now. To Katharine who steers the ship, Hemini who gets the nation knowing their blood pressure numbers throughout the year, Nirmala who provides a lifeline to patients, Gareth who is a font of knowledge for us and for patients, and Kay who communicates our knowledge to those who need it.
Thank you to the health professionals, health care teams, pharmacists, leisure centres and other organisations who provide support to us and to their communities.
Finally, and most importantly, thank you to our members who continue to support us and use our services to support their own health.
Together we have changed awareness and treatment of blood pressure on an individual and national level, and we will continue to do so for as long as we are needed.
Graham MacGregor is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chair of Blood Pressure UK and Action on Salt. He was awarded a CBE in 2019 for services to Cardiovascular Disease.
A message from Katharine Jenner, our CEO
We are only as strong as our members and supporters, from the individuals living with high blood pressure to the pharmacies, health care professionals and leisure centres that promote our events. Without you, we wouldn’t know who needs which services, how and when. I truly hope I have been able to reflect your needs back to the policy makers and to those involved at the top levels of healthcare provision, and promise to continue challenging them to do the best for preventing and treating high blood pressure.
A message from Hemini Bharadia, our Marketing Manager
I am relatively new to Blood Pressure UK compared to the rest of the team, but over the seven years I have been here it has been great to see the evolution of the charity and its role among the health care community, and the growing awareness of blood pressure and its importance. I’m proud to work for a small but highly dedicated charity that continues to make a difference. Thank you to all our members, Pressure Stations and supporters for your continued support.