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Fire crews to take blood pressure reading in NHS Health Checks rollout



NHS England will announce plans today to roll out health checks to more patients using wider local authority and third sector workforces, which will include fire and rescue services taking blood pressure readings in parts of England.

The new drive is based on data that suggests that health checks could prevent more than 9,000 heart attacks and at least 14,000 strokes over the next three years.

In a joint initiative with PHE, the expansion of NHS Health Checks will increase access to blood pressure testing in the workplace, and using the wider local authority and third sector workforce to carry out health checks in community settings.

Dr Matt Kearney, the NHS’s national clinical director for cardiovascular disease prevention and GP said: ‘Some parts across the country have already started to use non-traditional ways – and places – to carry out simple health checks with encouraging results but it is up to clinicians and others to decide where and how this is done in their area.’

Pulse understands that in some parts of England this includes fire crews taking blood pressure readings when they check people’s fire alarms among a range of initiatives.

It will also include more testing and treatment in pharmacies, more self-monitoring, more access to blood pressure testing in community and workplace settings, and new digital tools such as the ‘One You Heart Age Test’.

Sir Bruce Keogh, the national medical director of NHS England, will say today that closer working between NHS organisations and local authorities will ‘create new opportunities to get serious about prevention and bear down on two of the biggest killers, between them responsible for one in four premature deaths’.

Speaking at NHS England’s Health and Care Expo, he will add: ‘We know how to treat the resulting heart attacks and stroke, but everyone knows that prevention is better than cure. 

‘Prevention of these devastating consequences is everybody’s business from our schools, to the food and tobacco industries, to local authorities and the NHS.’ 

However, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, expressed ‘valid concerns about blanket health checks that both deflect resources away from delivering patient care to those who really need it; and have the potential to cause unintended harms’.

She said: ‘The College agrees that prevention is key to the long-term sustainability of the NHS, and our patients’ long-term health and wellbeing. 

‘But we must ensure that we take a patient-centred approach – focused on the individual – as all patients have unique physical, psychological and social factors potentially affecting their health.’

According to PHE data, 5.5m people in England have undiagnosed high blood pressure and nearly half a million have undiagnosed atrial fibrillation, which increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, dementia and limb amputations.

A study last year found that NHS Health Checks is proving a ‘remarkable success’ having prevented at least 2,500 heart attacks and strokes in England in the past five years.

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, will say: ‘Scaling up CVD prevention locally is a major part of reducing the overall burden on individuals, families and the NHS, and will help to ensure a person’s health is not defined by where they live’.

NHS England and PHE have written to all 44 regional partnerships tasked with overhauling local health and social care to urge them to improve prevention of CVD.