The NHS is expanding blood pressure checks available in local communities including barbershops, mosques and at a dominoes club, as part of a major drive to prevent strokes and heart attacks.
Thanks to the learning from the NHS covid vaccination programme, local teams are reaching out into their neighbourhoods to find potential health problems before they become more serious for patients at locations that are most convenient.
The lifesaving action by NHS staff comes alongside new figures showing that high street pharmacies delivered a total of 149,865 blood pressure checks to the over 40s in May 2023 – more than double the amount delivered the year before (58,345 in May 2022).
More than 1,300 heart attacks and strokes could be prevented this year thanks to the high street checks.
The checks in local communities across the country include:
NHS and council services in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, are operating a mobile blood pressure service called ‘How’s Thi Ticker’ which travels around local neighbourhoods including to barber shops, supermarkets, and community centres, seeing more than a third of people referred to pharmacists with high blood pressure – freeing up GPs and catching early signs of heart attack and stroke risk.
GPs in Warrington are working with ETC Health at BT to offer chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hypertensive patients oxygen saturation and blood pressure tracking at home using an app, with over 1,000 users already and six heart attacks and nine strokes set to be avoided.
In Lambeth NHS teams have worked with Black Thrive and MyCommunity Lambeth to offer blood pressure checks at a Brixton dominoes club, helping to spot signs of hypertension early.
And on Saturday, the local primary care network ran a free community health check day at Birmingham Central Mosque, with services including blood pressure and heart health checks, cancer awareness and lifestyle advice.
New funding as part of the primary care access recovery plan will see a further 2.5 million blood pressure checks in community pharmacies, estimated to prevent more than 1,350 cardiovascular events each year – 113 heart attacks and strokes every month.
The total number of blood pressure checks delivered by pharmacy teams in the year to March was more than 1 million (1,053,278).
David Webb, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England, said: “The enormous expansion in the number of blood pressure checks delivered over the last year is thanks to the hard work of community pharmacies which have more than doubled the number of blood pressure checks delivered, and the innovation of local teams, going into the heart of communities with mobile sites that can visit places like barber shops and dominoes clubs.
“With the number of people living with major illnesses including heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions set to grow substantially over the coming years, it has never been more important to put in place preventative measures like easy to access blood pressure checks that can pick up the early signs and risks, with figures showing teams are on track to prevent more than 1,300 heart attacks and strokes this year alone”.
The Health Foundation estimates that 9.1 million people will be living with a major illness by 2040, 2.5 million more than in 2019, which is why prevention and early intervention tools such as community blood pressure checks are key priorities for the NHS.
The creation of integrated care systems has ensured health and care professionals across the NHS, councils and voluntary sector can easily work together to boost prevention and tackle health inequalities, bringing together all available data and resources to find those at highest risk and link them up with appropriate local services.
Professor Bola Owolabi, NHS Director of Healthcare Inequalities, said: “These latest figures demonstrate the exceptional work being done by high street pharmacies to tackle health inequalities, more than doubling the number of blood pressure checks in just a year which will undoubtedly have a significant effect on reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke for so many people. This is particularly important for those living in the most deprived areas and from ethnic minority backgrounds who we know are most at risk.
“This is also why it is so vital that we continue to strengthen the exceptional work being done by local NHS prevention and health inequalities teams who are constantly thinking of new, innovative ways to get right into the heart of our communities – whether it is the local church, mosque, community centre or a dominoes club – delivering blood pressure checks in the most convenient places to make it as easy as possible for people to check their risk”.
Health Minister Neil O’Brien said: “With as many as 5 million people in the UK with undiagnosed hypertension, I urge all those eligible to come forward and get checked – early diagnosis can save lives by preventing heart attacks and strokes.
“The government has already announced up to £645 million for a range of additional pharmaceutical services including the aim to carry out 2.5 million additional blood pressure checks each year”.
John Maingay, Director of Policy and Influencing at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Having high blood pressure can significantly increase your risk of having a heart attack and stroke, but it can be difficult to know you have it unless you check because it doesn’t usually have any obvious symptoms.
“At a time when the NHS is busier than ever, making more of these free checks available in local communities has the potential to help millions more people improve their heart health, and prevent more heart attacks and strokes.
“We urge everyone to take up a free blood pressure check in your neighbourhood – it’s quick, easy, and could help save your life”.
Tase Oputu, Chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, said: “Community pharmacies have done outstanding work to double the number of blood pressure checks for the over 40s in the past year, helping to prevent many heart attacks and strokes.
“Conveniently located in the heart of communities they serve and highly trusted, pharmacy teams provide expert advice and services that address health inequalities on a daily basis”.
Dr David Crichton, Chief Medical Officer at NHS South Yorkshire, said: “This sort of approach, where we go out into our communities and connect with people who wouldn’t usually have their blood pressure checked, helps tackle health inequalities.
“The teams make it easier for people to get tested, they give them confidence to ask any questions they have. When someone is referred to a local pharmacy, in their own neighbourhood, we know they’re more likely to attend and get the vital support and treatment they need.
“People have told us they want services more joined up and accessed locally and this is a great example of that”.
Dr Dan Bunstone, Clinical Director at the Warrington Innovation Primary Care Network, said: “It is fantastic to be able to be truly proactive with these highest need patients, some of whom had not had a blood pressure reading for years.
“We are finding that people are happy to use new technology, helping keep them supported at home in a very convenient way, giving them peace of mind and helping to relieve the pressure on primary care and hospitals. It is really helping us move from reactive care to proactive health – a truly preventative model of care”.