NHS England launch heart health checks in pharmacies

The NHS has launched a plan for high street pharmacies to offer free blood pressure checks to customers to prevent heart disease and stroke


From 1 October 2019, 320 pharmacies in England will offer health checks to customers as part of NHS plans to prevent more heart attacks and strokes. They will include blood pressure and cholesterol checks, and checks for irregular heartbeat. The aim is to reach people at risk of illness before any problems develop, giving them the chance to get lifestyle advice and medicines earlier on. 

If successful, the heart checks will be rolled out to all pharmacies in England over the next three years, funded by a £13 billion contract with NHS England.

The heart checks are part of NHS England’s Long Term Plan to prevent tens of thousands of heart attacks, strokes and other diseases over the next ten years. Diseases of the heart and blood vessels affect six million people and account for a quarter of deaths in England, costing the NHS £7 billion a year. 

What the heart health checks will involve  

The new health checks will include:  

  • a blood pressure test to check for raised blood pressure  
  • a cholesterol test for raised cholesterol
  • an ECG to check for irregular heart beats

Raised blood pressure and cholesterol raise the risk of diseases of the heart and blood vessels. While atrial fibrillation (AF), a type of irregular heartbeat, dramatically raises the risk of stroke. 

None of these problems tend to have any symptoms, which is why it’s so important to get tested regularly throughout adulthood. 

The plans will shift the responsibilities of GPs and pharmacies 

GPs will focus more on identifying people at higher risk of disease based on their family history. While pharmacies will focus on finding people with undiagnosed risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and irregular heartbeats. They can then be referred to the GP for medicines and other treatments if needed. 

Evidence for the new plans 

Pilot projects in Lambeth and Southwark have shown that teamwork between GPs and pharmacies in finding people who need treatment for atrial fibrillation (AF) reduced the number of strokes caused by AF by a quarter. They improved rates of diagnosis and treatment and freed up time for GPs.

Blood Pressure UK Trustee Professor Bryan Williamswho worked on the European Society for Cardiology (ESC) guidelines on disease prevention, said:
“This is hugely important. Heart disease and stroke remain the most important cause of premature death and disability and we have the means to prevent many of them.” 

“The key is early detection of those at risk and doing this in a way that is convenient for the public, not having to wait for a GP appointment that could be done simply at the local pharmacy.”

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, explained“Heart disease and strokes dramatically cut short lives, and leave thousands of people disabled every year, so rapid detection of killer conditions through High street heart checks will be a game-changer.”

Katharine Jenner CEO of Blood Pressure UK said:

“There are 6 million people in the UK who have high blood pressure and don’t know it, putting them at risk of a heart attack or stroke. The central role of pharmacies in the community gives them a unique opportunity to find them and we fully support them taking on this responsibility.

“We hope to see many more people detected with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and atrial fibrillation so that they can get treatment early. We’re looking forward to seeing the results of this new work as they come in.” 

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