Pharmacies to offer heart checkups in new NHS England scheme

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By Seth Jacobson

Early detection service at 320 pharmacies aims to prevent heart attacks and strokes

Heart checkups are to be offered at high street pharmacies under new plans from NHS England, as part of a programme which seeks to prevent tens of thousands of heart attacks and strokes over the next decade.

General practices will also join the fight against common conditions that lead to cardiovascular disease in a plan launched on Monday, working in specialist teams with pharmacists. Successful pilots of the measures reduced strokes by a quarter.

From October, more than 320 community pharmacies across England will begin to test an early detection service to try to identify people with undiagnosed high-risk conditions.

Pharmacists will actively offer blood pressure tests to people showing symptoms of that condition and will also offer cholesterol tests. Electrocardiograms will be available to detect irregular heartbeats.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and irregular heart rhythms – atrial fibrillation (AF) – are the conditions that most commonly cause heart disease and stroke and are linked to many cases of dementia.

Those patients found to have concerning results will be referred to their GPs and be given lifestyle advice by the pharmacist. If the trials are successful, then it will be rolled out to all community pharmacies in 2021-22 as part of a £13bn five-year contract with NHS England.

NHS England’s national medical director, Prof 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.”

In a trial at Lambeth and Southwark clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), GPs worked with specialist teams of nurses and and pharmacists to identify patients who had been diagnosed with AF but not received the correct anticoagulation medication.

During the year-long trial, 1,400 patients were identified as not currently receiving anticoagulants – all but 100 of these have now received the correct medication, preventing an estimated 45 strokes a year. The two CCGs have also seen a 25% reduction in the rate of AF-related strokes.

Keith Ridge, the chief pharmaceutical officer of NHS England, said the plan would help to establish pharmacies across the country as local health hubs “where people can go for an ever-increasing range of clinical health checks and treatment”, and would make the most of the clinical skills of local pharmacists.

“The priority of the plan is to give the public convenient access to the healthcare, help and advice that they really want, which is why patients can now expect to benefit not just from continued excellence in medicines advice and help for common conditions from their pharmacist, but also from development of a range of new clinical services to tackle deadly diseases earlier on the frontline.”