How testing for hypertension in pharmacy can help ease the pressure on our health service

Clare Kerr, head of healthcare policy and strategy from McKesson UK (which includes LloydsPharmacy), says that community pharmacy is ready to step up and help more patients take control of their blood pressure as part of a newly piloted service.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is responsible for over 75,000 deaths every year in the UK. It affects more than 1 in 4 adults and puts them at increased risk of stroke, heart attack and other health problems. In fact, the number of people in the UK with hypertension is on the rise, which only adds to the pressures facing our NHS and makes prevention a priority. The NHS Long Term Plan includes a major ambition to prevent 150,000 strokes and heart attacks over the next ten years. Improving the treatment of the high-risk conditions such as hypertension and early detection will be key to achieving this.

That’s why we are really excited about the introduction of the pilot for a new national blood pressure testing service through pharmacies in the UK. LloydsPharmacy has a proven track record of providing blood pressure testing for millions of people over the years. By launching this trial, which could eventually be rolled out as a national service to all pharmacies, we can reach even more patients and help them to take control of their blood pressure and avoid any future complications. 

The key to tackling high blood pressure is a combination of regular monitoring and lifestyle changes. That’s exactly where pharmacy can add so much value. In our 2019 LloydsPharmacy Health of Nation report, we outlined what a typical person with high blood pressure looks like. Over 70% of patients tested at LloydsPharmacy were classed as being overweight/obese and the majority of people with high blood pressure admitted to eating less the recommended portions of vegetables and oily fish.

There is a common misconception that high blood pressure is hereditary, but we have found that over half of the patients we tested had no family history of hypertension or other heart conditions. By making meaningful lifestyle changes, people can lower their blood pressure and reduce their risk of developing other serious related conditions. 

As recognised health and wellbeing hubs, community pharmacies already provide expert advice and services relating to smoking cessation and weight management. They can also offer information about the benefits of exercise and a balanced diet. All of this contributes toward patients taking more control of their health and hopefully living longer. 

Pharmacies also play a vital role in making life-saving interventions and directing patients for further support if required. Around 40 people that we test every year have dangerously high blood pressure which has led us to referring them straight to A+E. Without regular monitoring, these conditions could have gone unnoticed and resulted in a serious risk to life. 

Mr Hancock said that he is determined to make better use of the clinical skills within community pharmacy, and to take more of an integrated approach to tackling the nation’s health challenges. We are excited by the opportunity for us to step up and help even more people with this new blood pressure testing service. This is exactly the sort of thing that we can do more of to support the wider health system and we await further details about how it will work.