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CVD screening to be phased in over two years

By Nigel Praities

The new national cardiovascular screening programme will be phased in more slowly than planned because of concern over the burden on GPs – and pharmacists will be asked to take on some of the work, Pulse can reveal.

Government heart tsar Professor Roger Boyle, speaking exclusively to Pulse, said some of the £250m annual funding for the programme would be diver-ted away from practices to pharmacies as GPs could not take on the whole programme alone.

He also revealed that the screening programme will now be phased in over two years.

Health secretary Alan Johnson last month unveiled high-profile plans for a nationwide programme of vascular risk checks for everyone aged 40-74 from next year. He claimed screening would not greatly increase work for practices, with only seven additional appointments a week. But screening experts warned the plans could overwhelm GPs, with estimates that three million patients a year would have to be screened.

Professor Boyle admitted the screening programme was a ‘big job' and would need to be phased in gradually. He also said larger practices may be better placed to do the checks, and pharmacists, big businesses and mobile units would be given a proportion of the funding to conduct screening and then relay the results to GPs.

‘We have to take the burden of this away from the practice but if that isn't possible then some of this resource may have to go to the practice level. Already some of the big high-street pharmacy chains are expressing an interest,' he said.

Professor Boyle said it was important to use the information practices already held on patients and to reduce GP workload by initially targeting higher-risk groups, such as smokers and obese patients.

‘When you actually interrogate the practice database, many patients have already had a vascular check done, and we are not expecting to do everybody in such a short space of time,' he said.

A Department of Health spokesperson confirmed the scheme would target certain groups first and be rolled out across the country in stages. ‘Not everyone who is eligible for a vascular check may have one in the first year of implementation,' she said.

Dr Terry McCormack, chair of the Primary Care Cardiovascular Society and a GP in Whitby, North Yorkshire, said although targeting higher-risk patients first was a good idea, using other providers to do vascular checks would not reduce practice workload. He said: ‘You cannot pretend that using pharmacists and mobile units will reduce workload, because once people are identified the practice will have to validate that risk and then treat them.'

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