High street pharmacists to offer cardiovascular health checks

Author: Mark Gould
High street pharmacists to offer cardiovascular health checks

More high street pharmacists are set to offer on the spot blood pressure and cholesterol checks as part of the NHS Long Term Plan which aims to prevent tens of thousands of strokes and heart attacks over the next 10 years. If successful, the trial programme which starts next month hopes to be expanded to every pharmacy in England.

Plans are also underway for both GPs and community pharmacists to address underlying conditions that cause cardiovascular disease and stroke. General practices will identify those at risk and optimise treatment in people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and atrial fibrillation (AF).

And from October as part of their new £13 billion five-year contract, community pharmacists will start to develop and test an early detection service to identify people who may have undiagnosed high-risk conditions like high blood pressure for referral for further testing and treatment. If successful, this could be rolled out to all community pharmacies in 2021-22.

Pharmacists will case-find and offer blood pressure tests to people showing symptoms, provide clinical and lifestyle advice or referral, and record the data, joining up services and treatment with GPs and other local services, to speed up access to care.

NHS England's medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, said: “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.

“Reducing lifestyle risks and treating high-risk conditions such as smoking, obesity, poor diet and physical inactivity are key to preventing serious ill health, and the NHS Long Term Plan will help people take positive action for their own wellbeing, while investing in life-changing services, close to home, when ill health hits.”

Work to identify and treat people with high blood pressure and AF has already been tried successfully in Lambeth and Southwark, Dudley and West Hampshire, where there has been substantial improvement in rates of diagnosis and optimal treatment – at the same time freeing up clinical time for GPs.

In the locally commissioned trailblazer by Lambeth and Southwark Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), GPs worked with specialist nurses and specialist AF pharmacists to identify patients who had been diagnosed with AF but not received anti-coagulation medication.

Over a 12-month period, 1,400 patients were reviewed across 92 practices, whom were identified as not currently receiving anticoagulants. In total, 1,300 of those patients are now anticoagulated, preventing an estimated 45 strokes a year. The two CCGs have since seen a 25% reduction in the rate of AF-related stroke.

As a result of the successful Lambeth and Southwark pilot, a new £9 million programme to spot heart conditions aimed at saving at least 200 lives and offering protection to thousands more, has been rolled out to 23 CCGs across England.

Keith Ridge, the chief pharmaceutical officer, said: “The priority of the NHS Long Term Plan is to give the public convenient access to the health care, help and advice that they really want, which is why patients can now expect to benefit not just from continued excellence in medicines advice and help for common conditions from their pharmacist, but also from development of a range of new clinical services to tackle deadly diseases earlier on the frontline.

“This new contract makes the most of the clinical skills of local pharmacists and establishes pharmacies across England as local health hubs – open in the evenings and at weekends – where people can go for an ever-increasing range of clinical health checks and treatment.”