Community pharmacies have prevented 600 future heart attacks and strokes in the first year of the NHS Community Pharmacy Blood Pressure Check Service, the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) has estimated.

It suggested that with adequate investment, community pharmacy could become a ‘one-stop-shop’ for initial cardiovascular care where appropriate and free up much-needed capacity in GP access.

Just over 590,000 blood pressure checks have been carried out under the scheme in the twelve months since it launched in October 2021, according to figures from the NHS Business Services Authority.

And of these, 44% were delivered in the 30% most deprived areas in England, where 10,000 cases of high blood pressure were identified.

Across England as a whole, screenings identified over 25,000 people with high blood pressure. Using modelling from University College London, the CCA estimated that the 590,000+ checks had prevented 600 future heart attacks and strokes.

It suggested that by 2026, community pharmacy could deliver around 15m blood pressure checks, identifying over 650,000 patients with high blood pressure and preventing up to 5,800 heart attacks and 8,800 strokes.

And once the service was fully implemented, community pharmacies would be able to screen 5 million people each year, identifying over 200,000 people with high blood pressure and preventing 5,000 heart attacks and strokes annually, it added.

The CCA recommended that over time, community pharmacy should become the default first point of contact for cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention in primary care, eventually offering end-to-end care for thousands of patients with, or at-risk of, CVD, which is the cause of one in four premature deaths and affects over 6 million people in England.

However, the CCA expressed concerns that community pharmacy’s annual funding shortfall of over £67,000 per pharmacy would prevent the screening programme from reaching this potential.

A new report, released today by the CCA, described it as ‘essential’ that the government recognise ‘the value of community pharmacy hypertension screenings’, and that it acts ‘to safeguard this access’ through providing long-term investment for the sector.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA, said the sector ‘can, and should, play a huge role in the nation’s fight against cardiovascular disease’, and that it was ‘time that the government and NHS invest in the tremendous potential of community pharmacy’.

He added: ‘Whilst the funding model for community pharmacy is broken, it is not beyond repair. Investing in community pharmacy to become the first point of contact for cardiovascular disease is a sure-fire way of freeing up GP capacity, reversing health inequalities and ultimately saving lives.’

John Maingay, director of policy and influencing at the British Heart Foundation said that community pharmacies were ‘helping to save lives every day’ by delivering more accessible blood pressure checks.

‘Local pharmacies are well placed to detect high blood pressure and help people receive appropriate care, while also relieving some of the immense pressure on GPs,’ he said.

The CCA also said that developing the hypertension service in community pharmacy would provide clinical roles in the sector for newly qualified Independent Prescribers (IPs) to use their skills.

Last month, Health and Social Care Select Committee chair Steve Brine emphasised the importance of developing opportunities for pharmacist prescribers to use their clinical skills in a community setting, or risk them leaving the workforce.

Mr Brine had told delegates at the Sigma Conference 2023: ‘We mustn’t let his happen.’ He added that the committee had concluded ‘there was a great opportunity to better utilise the pharmacy workforce and in doing so, to optimise the workloads across primary care, reduce pressure on general practice and hospitals and support the new integrated care systems’, and was awaiting government response to its recommendations.

But some within the sector have suggested that NHS services need to be better designed and funded for pharmacies to be able to provide them.

Community pharmacist Ade Williams told The Pharmacist this week many pharmacies were opting to provide private services to respond to patient demand for the greater flexibility offered by more ‘innovative’ private services, as well as being ‘pushed’ to do so by inadequate NHS funding.

However, he warned that an increasing move towards providing private services ‘never bodes well for addressing health inequalities or long-term accessibility’.