From October 2019 more than 320 pharmacies in England will begin to offer blood pressure and cholesterol tests, as well as electrocardiograms, as part of a programme to reduce the number of heart attack and strokes in the country over the next decade.
Patients with concerning results will be referred to their GPs and be given diet, exercise, and lifestyle advice by the pharmacist.
The plan is to identify at-risk patients earlier, when interventional treatment and lifestyle changes are most likely to be effective. Earlier diagnosis could help cut costs and prevent unnecessary hospital admissions.
If the trials are successful, the scheme will be expanded to all community pharmacies in the UK across 2021-22 as part of a £13bn five-year contract with NHS England that aims to expand the role of pharmacies in early detection services.
Successful pilots of the scheme in the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark identified over 1,400 patients suffering from atrial fibrillation (AF) who should have been, but were not, taking blood-thinning drugs for their condition. A total of 1,300 of these patients have now been put on the medication leading to a 25% reduction in strokes linked to the heart condition in the boroughs.
NHS England 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.”
Heart disease is Britain’s biggest killer, with 160,000 deaths a year caused by heart attacks, strokes and other circulatory diseases in the UK. Over seven million Britons currently live with heart and circulatory diseases.
British Heart Foundation chief executive Simon Gillespie said: “Reaching more people and encouraging them to check their blood pressure, working with them to lower it where necessary, will play an absolutely critical role in saving lives in the coming years.”