How people can ‘know their numbers’ to prevent cardiovascular disease

It’s May Measurement Month and this year the NHS is making it easier for people to ‘know their numbers’ and get their blood pressure checked.

In this blog, Shahed Ahmad, our National Clinical Director for Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) Prevention and David Webb, our Chief Pharmaceutical Officer consider how the NHS Community Pharmacy Blood Pressure Check Service is saving lives by making it easy for people to ‘know their numbers’.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) affects over 6 million people in England and is a leading cause of premature death. One in four premature deaths are caused by CVD and it is a leading cause of disability.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and significantly increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, but early detection and treatment can help people live longer, healthier lives.

Today, NHS England is supporting World Hypertension Day and the International Society for Hypertension’s May Measurement Month campaign, which aims to increase high blood pressure awareness in all populations around the world.

During the pandemic, there was a reduction in diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of hypertension, and other CVD risk factors.

Although the NHS took action to encourage diagnosis and care via remote models, including providing over 220,000 blood pressure monitors for people to use at home, data shows there were 2 million fewer people in England were recorded as having controlled hypertension in 2021 compared to the previous year.

It is anticipated that the diagnosis gap is largest among the most deprived 20% of the population, a group that accounts for nearly a third of avoidable mortality from cardiovascular disease under the age of 75.This is why the NHS is prioritising CVD prevention, focusing on 4 high-impact areas that will enable us to improve detection, monitoring and treatment of high-risk conditions.

These 4 areas include; taking a data-driven approach to target inequalities, empowering patients to manage their condition, expanding treatment options and ensuring we make every contact count by making it as convenient as possible for people to get checked.

Hypertension case finding is also one of the 5 clinical areas of priority for accelerated improvement within our Core20Plus5 approach, which targets the most deprived 20% of the population.

Since October 2021, community pharmacies across England have been offering a blood pressure check service to people over 40 as an easy and convenient way for people to get their blood pressure checked.

Community pharmacies are easily accessible for most people, who can drop in without needing to make an appointment at a time convenient to them, or at the request of their GP.

People who haven’t been previously identified as having hypertension or a related   condition; and haven’t had their blood pressure measured by a health professional within the previous six months as part of regular monitoring, are eligible for this service.

Following the check, if they are found to have a confirmed high blood pressure reading, the pharmacist can follow up with continuous and urgently refer them to their GP practice if necessary.

All blood pressure readings are sent to the GP from the community pharmacy, joining up services to speed up access to care and prevention of strokes and heart attacks in otherwise undiagnosed patients.

To date more than 6,800 community pharmacies have signed up to provide the service and over 75,051 checks have been carried out by community pharmacies.

This service is a significant development in clinical services being offered in the community, making greater use of community pharmacists’ clinical skills to support people manage their health, and providing joined up care for patients.

Our hope is for more community pharmacies, specifically those in areas of health deprivation, to offer this vital service to deliver the wider aim in the NHS Long Term Plan to tackle health inequalities and the prevention of ill health, aiming to prevent 150,000 strokes, heart attacks and dementia cases, over the next ten years.

The NHS community pharmacy blood pressure check service is based on published research, previous pilots and the NICE guidance for high blood pressure.

For more information:

Dr Shahed Ahmad

Shahed Ahmad, National Clinical Director for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at NHS England.

Dr Shahed Ahmad is an NHS England Medical Director in the South East Region where he is the Responsible Officer for over 3000 GPs. Shahed was educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and University College and Middlesex School of Medicine. Shahed did his MSc in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and his leadership training at the London Business School. Before working for NHS England and NHS Improvement, Shahed was a Director of Public Health and led on cardiovascular risk reduction in a number of boroughs. Since joining NHS England, Shahed developed the NHS@2030 programme for GPs in South Central (a number of whom are now clinical directors of primary care networks) and developed the Hampshire Thames Valley Leadership Forum.

David Webb

David Webb is the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England, having previously been Chief Pharmacist and Clinical Director for Pharmacy and Medicines Optimisation at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. He is a member of NHS England Medical Directorate’s senior management team, the UK Government Chief Medical Officer’s senior clinical group, Head of the Pharmacy Professions in England and the principal advisor on pharmacy and medicines use in the NHS, which includes supporting the Department of Health and Social Care.