Almost half of adults aged over 40 are unaware they can have a free blood pressure check at a community pharmacy, a survey commissioned by NHS England has suggested.

The finding comes as part of a new national campaign launched today to find the ‘missing millions’ who have undiagnosed high blood pressure and to encourage those eligible to have a free check at their local pharmacy.

The TV, poster and social media campaign, featuring pharmacist Deepak Bilakhia, follows the expansion of blood pressure check services in community pharmacies – including capacity for an additional 2.5 million tests and more pharmacy staff being able to deliver the checks.

Backed by organisations including the British Heart Foundation, Stroke Association, Heart Research UK, Blood Pressure UK, and the British Society for Heart Failure, the campaign seeks to highlight that most high blood pressure cases are asymptomatic and to identify people in England who could be living with undiagnosed high blood pressure.

An NHS England-commissioned survey of more than 2,000 adults aged 40 and over revealed 44% were not aware they could get a free blood pressure check at a pharmacy, with even more not knowing that they did not need an appointment (59%).

Meanwhile, four in 10 (41%) were unaware that, if left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, and over a fifth (22%) did not know that it can cause strokes and heart attacks.

The survey also found that in terms of priorities, checking blood pressure ranked lower than getting the car MOT’d, the boiler serviced and renewing insurances.

Mr Bilakhia, a Nottingham-based community pharmacist, said: ‘Campaigns like this are so important because high blood pressure can be a silent killer and really can affect anyone, including those with no symptoms at all.

‘Too many people are unaware that pharmacies offer this kind of service, without needing to book an appointment.’

Health minister Andrea Leadsom added: ‘Millions of adults in England unknowingly have high blood pressure, without experiencing any symptoms.

‘As part of our Pharmacy First programme, the NHS has expanded its pharmacy offering to include 2.5 million more blood pressure checks within local pharmacies.’

High blood pressure is one of the largest known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which causes one in four deaths in England. All adults should have a check at least once every five years but are eligible for a free check at any time, provided they have not been diagnosed with high blood pressure or had a check in the last six months.

The ‘Get Your Blood Pressure Checked’ drive supports the ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan, which focuses on tackling health inequalities and the prevention of ill health and aims to prevent 150,000 strokes, heart attacks and dementia cases over the course of 10 years by raising awareness and diagnosis of high blood pressure.

The campaign has also been backed by Graeme Souness, TV pundit and former footballer, who is affected by high blood pressure and had a heart attack, and Gloria Hunniford, TV presenter and broadcaster, whose father and husband have suffered strokes.

Community pharmacy blood pressure checks more than doubled last year and an online tool was launched to help patients in England find a pharmacy offering the NHS Blood Pressure Check Service.

Pharmacies have been urged to boost ambulatory blood pressure monitoring, while a recent study found that variable blood pressure could indicate increased heart risk.