High Street Heart Checks on the NHS

Pharmacists are set to offer rapid detection and help for killer conditions like heart disease as part of a major revamp of high street pharmacy services.

The high street heart checks are part of an ambitious target the NHS in England has set itself as part of its Long Term Plan to prevent tens of thousands of strokes and heart attacks over the next ten years.

Plans are underway for both GPs and community pharmacists to lead the fight against common conditions that cause cardiovascular disease (CVD) and stroke, building on successful pilots which have reduced strokes by a quarter.

General practices will identify those at risk and optimise treatment in people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and irregular heart rhythms – called Atrial Fibrillation (AF) – all high-risk conditions that that most commonly cause heart disease and stroke, as well as many cases of dementia.

And from October 1st, 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.

Accelerating prevention of life-threatening illness such as heart attack and stroke is central to the NHS Long Term Plan and, in addition to a substantial commitment to tackle obesity, alcohol dependence and smoking, the blueprint for the health service outlines an ambition to tackle CVD, affecting six million people and accounting for a quarter of deaths in England and costing the NHS £7 billion a year.

As the NHS expands health help in every community across England, 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.

This will include developing and testing an early detection service to help identify people who may have an undiagnosed cardiovascular disease for onward referral for further testing and treatment if required.

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.

England’s top doctor, 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.”

Dr Duncan Jenkins,  Pharmaceutical Lead for the Black Country and West Birmingham, said: “The NHS Long Term Plan ambition is to give the public convenient access to the health care, help and advice that they really want, pharmacy’s play a key role in that.  In the Black Country and West Birmingham, we are making the most of the clinical skills of local pharmacists, increasing access to services in the evenings and at weekends and ensuring that more of our pharmacies offer the full range of health advice and services. The new contract and initiatives such as heart checks highlight the opportunity for pharmacies in the future.”

An excellent example of the role of a community pharmacist is that of Mrs Olutayo Arikawe from the Priory Community Pharmacy in Dudley. Mrs Arikawe recently won the Parliamentary Awards for Excellence in Healthcare after being nominated by Ian Austin MP.

The priory pharmacy in Dudley is just 1 of around 115 Healthy Living Pharmacies in the Black Country and West Birmingham, offering people health living advice such as smoking, weight management as well as signposting people to other services.

Dr Jenkins added, “We expect all pharmacies to be Health Living Pharmacies in the Black Country and West Birmingham by April 2020 as part of the new contract and we are now looking at how we can implement heart checks too.”