Pharmacies will offer “high street heart checks” from 1 October this year in a bid to help detect underlying conditions.
The move marks part of an NHS plan to prevent up to 150,000 heart attacks and strokes in the next 10 years.
More than 320 community pharmacies across England will test the early detection service to identify people with undiagnosed, high-risk conditions.
It will be available to those who go to their pharmacy with symptoms of high blood pressure – signs such as breathlessness or being red in the face.
GPs are also helping to fight against conditions that lead to cardiovascular disease by working in specialist teams with pharmacists. Successful trials of these measures reduced strokes by a quarter, NHS said.
Cardiovascular disease affects roughly six million people and accounts for a quarter of deaths in England – it costs the NHS £7bn a year.
In a bid to ease pressure on GPs, community pharmacists will offer an ever-increasing range of clinical health checks and treatment, alongside their core offer of medicines advice and prescriptions, and consultations for minor illnesses such as earache, sore throats, coughs and colds.
The checks are part of a new £13bn five-year contract for community pharmacists, which aims to expand their roles and offer earlier detection of diseases.
If successful, the scheme could be rolled out to all community pharmacies in 2021-22. To find out if your local pharmacy will be offering the checks from October 2019, go in and ask one of the pharmacists.
What will a heart check entail?
An initial blood pressure check will determine whether you’re showing signs of high blood pressure or not. If you are, you’ll be offered clinical and lifestyle advice, and referred to your GP, who will be sent a record of your results. They will then set up any follow-up tests or prescribe necessary medication.
Pharmacists will also offer cholesterol tests – and electrocardiograms will be used to detect irregular heartbeats.
Professor Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, 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.”
What did the trials show?
Work to identify and treat people with high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation (AF) – a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate – has been trialled in Lambeth and Southwark, Dudley and West Hampshire.
There has been a “substantial improvement” in rates of diagnosis and optimal treatment, said the NHS, while also freeing up some clinical time for GPs.
In Lambeth and Southwark, GPs worked with specialist nurses and specialist pharmacists to identify patients who had been diagnosed with AF but hadn’t received anti-coagulation medication. Anticoagulants reduce a person’s chances of developing serious conditions such as strokes and heart attacks by helping to prevent blood clots.
Over a 12-month period, 1,400 patients were reviewed across 92 practices and were identified as not currently receiving anticoagulants. In total, 1,300 of those patients are now anticoagulated – preventing an estimated 45 strokes a year.