Pharmacists across Cheshire and Merseyside are offering rapid detection and help for killer conditions like heart disease as part of a major revamp of high street pharmacy services happening across the country.
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.
However, this work has been rolling out much earlier in Cheshire and Merseyside. In 2017, a local blood pressure screening programme was piloted which aimed to record a minimum of 3,000 blood pressure screening measurements across 120 Healthy Living Pharmacies across the region.
In Cheshire and Merseyside there are an estimated 275,000 people with high blood pressure who are unknown to their general practices. This could put them at risk of developing serious heart disease.
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 most commonly cause heart disease and stroke, as well as many cases of dementia.
From 1 October, 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 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.
The North West’s top doctor David Levy, 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 Levy, NHS North West’s medical director, described as “a game changer” the historic £4.5billion extra investment in primary and community care that sees substantial funding for new multidisciplinary teams of clinical pharmacists, social care link workers and others working in practices, doing things differently to improve outcomes for patients.
Jon Develing, Senior Responsible Officer for Prevention at Cheshire & Merseyside Health & Care Partnership added:
“We recognise the significant opportunities that arise when integrating care and the benefits this brings to patients.
"Through local pharmacies this integrated approach supports prevention, detection and the effective management of hypertension and is opening up new opportunities to intervene earlier and save lives”.
In the locally commissioned scheme in Cheshire and Merseyside, which precedes NHS England & Improvement’s commissioning of its new national pilot, community pharmacists are delivering a blood pressure screening service which is vital in the early detection and prevention of heart disease.
There are an estimated 275,000 people in the region who have high blood pressure but don’t know it and the Cheshire and Merseyside Pharmacy Local Professional Network has been working with the Champs Public Health Collaborative to influence the Cardio Vascular Disease (CVD) strategy.
A network of over 320 Healthy Living Pharmacies (HLPs) has been established with trained staff and approved equipment, funded by the British Heart Foundation to deliver the screening service aimed at the prevention, detection and management of high blood pressure.
In Phase 1, completed in April 2019, 116 Healthy Living Pharmacies delivered over 3,500 blood pressure measurements, and a further 210 HLPs have been recruited to the next phase.
Hassan Argomandkhah, Senior Clinical Pharmacist and Chair of the Pharmacy Local Professional Network on Merseyside, said:
“This new service will increase detection of high blood pressure, not only to identify people who may develop problems in the future but, importantly, give members of the public the right support and advice to manage any potential risk.
“What we have achieved in CVD prevention is down to the hard work of all partners including community pharmacy, NHS England and the directors of public health. The success is linked to having a fully engaged pharmacy network.”