Check blood pressure at gyms and train stations, says British Heart Foundation

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By Denis Campbell Health policy editor

Charity urges NHS to take radical measures to help millions at risk of heart attack or stroke

Health service staff should start checking people’s blood pressure at gyms, barber shops and football stadiums in a bid to cut deaths from heart attacks and strokes, NHS bosses are being urged.

Nurses should also offer health checks in workplaces and at train stations to help identify the millions of people in England with undiagnosed high blood pressure, the British Heart Foundation says. The condition is the commonest cause of heart attacks and strokes, which together remain the biggest source of premature deaths, despite success in recent years in reducing them.

Britain’s leading cardiac health charity wants NHS England chiefs to end the service’s reliance on blood pressure checks being done in traditional settings such as GP surgeries and hospitals.

Its new report says the forthcoming NHS long-term plan, due at the start of December, must include such innovative moves to help people understand the risks they face of heart attack, stroke or vascular dementia. Thousands of extra lives a year could be saved through ‚Äúa relentless determination to detect and treat these risk factors as early as possible‚ÄĚ.

The drive should run in conjunction with a national programme to raise awareness of the risk factors for those outcomes, such as smoking, being overweight and eating too much salt.

The report says: ‚ÄúThis should include increasing access to testing services in both healthcare settings, such as community pharmacies, and non-healthcare settings, such as football stadiums, train stations, leisure centres, barber shops and in the workplace.‚ÄĚ

Around 16 million adults in England are known to have high blood pressure and many take medication to keep it within a healthy range. However, an estimated 5.7 million other cases are thought to be undiagnosed. Those sufferers are up to three times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.

Ministers must make a concerted effort to cut levels of salt in food, which drives up blood pressure, the BHF says. Tobacco manufacturers and importers should be forced to pay a levy to reflect the harm they cause and help fund NHS services, it adds, suggesting retailers should be forced to obtain a licence before they can sell cigarettes.

Success in recent years in getting millions of people to take tablets to reduce blood pressure or cholesterol has helped to cut the number of those patients dying early from a heart attack or stroke.

But in the report, Simon Gillespie, the BHF‚Äôs chief executive, and Prof Sir Nilesh Samani, its medical director, say: ‚ÄúThere are worrying signs that progress in tackling early deaths is stalling‚Ķ obesity rates are stubbornly high, driving an increase in the number of people with type 2 diabetes, as well as high blood pressure and raised cholesterol. If left undetected, these conditions could lead to a dramatic resurgence of heart attacks and strokes.‚ÄĚ

Dr Matt Kearney, NHS England‚Äôs national clinical director for cardiovascular disease prevention, said: ‚ÄúThe long-term plan for the NHS will set out a strategy for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.‚ÄĚ However, he declined to specify what measures may be included in the document, which will set out how the NHS in England will spend the extra ¬£20.5bn a year that the government has promised to give it by 2023.

Matt Hancock, the health and social care secretary, has identified preventing illness as one of his three key priorities, alongside tackling staffing problemsand instigating a revolution in how the NHS uses technology to improve care.

The Department of Health and Social Care said: ‚ÄúThe government has made clear that prevention must be at the heart of the nation‚Äôs health, and will be a focus of the long-term plan for the NHS, which will be backed by an extra ¬£20.5bn a year by 2023-24.‚ÄĚ


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