NHS England has announced that it will roll out ‘health MOTs’ at pharmacies and other vaccination sites this autumn to save thousands of lives.
Speaking at the NHS Confederation Conference on Wednesday (June 16), NHS chief operating officer Amanda Pritchard set out how the health service will make “every contact count” by offering targeted tests such as blood pressure, heart rhythm and cholesterol checks when people drop in for top-up Covid jabs or flu vaccinations.
Responding to the announcement, Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association, hoped that it wasn’t just a “one-off scheme limited to a select few pharmacies”.
He said: “We don’t yet have the details, but it makes sense for pharmacies to be part of any new initiatives to monitor heart health and cholesterol, given how accessible they are and their proven track record in preventative care.
“It looks like a chance to identify underlying health problems which may have been missed during the coronavirus lockdown, and highlights the important role pharmacies will have in the nation’s post-pandemic reset.
“We hope it’s not a one-off scheme limited to a select few pharmacies, but something that can be scaled to turbo-charge access to cardiac support through community pharmacy.
“Given the magnificent contribution of pharmacies throughout the coronavirus pandemic, it’s natural that they should be seen as a solution in other areas of prevention and public health too.”
Across the country, pharmacists have been offering on-the-spot high-street heart checks to identify patients at risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke as part of an ongoing pilot – providing clinical and lifestyle advice and, where appropriate, referring patients on to treatment.
Claire Anderson, chair of RPS England, said: “This is a welcome recognition of how pharmacists will be central to delivering the NHS Long-Term Plan.
“Pharmacists are often visited by people who do not see their GP, so health MOTs are a great way for pharmacists to use their expertise to discover undiagnosed illnesses.
“As the NHS looks to recovery, we’d want to see additional services commissioned to make best use of pharmacists’ clinical skills.”
Catching major killers such as strokes and heart attacks at an earlier stage is key to the NHS Long Term Plan’s ambitions of saving thousands of lives each year.
In addition to substantial commitments to tackle obesity, alcohol and smoking, the plan aims to prevent 150,000 strokes and heart attacks over the next ten years by improving the treatment of high-risk conditions, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol and atrial fibrillation.
With one stroke prevented and 37 people with irregular heart rates diagnosed for every 5,000 people offered heart checks at vaccination centres, it is estimated that more than 1,000 strokes could be prevented every year if everyone over 65 was offered an annual heart rhythm check.
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive at the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said: “We welcome these pilots/case studies run by NHSE where possibilities of providing other prevention and health promotion services alongside Covid-19 vaccination are being tested out.
“Community pharmacy teams across the country, not just in vaccination sites, are ideally placed to deliver health MOTs but this needs to be commissioned and supported appropriately to allow pharmacy teams to have the relevant resource and workforce to deliver additional services.”
At the conference, Pritchard said: “The NHS is not just a sickness service but a health service which is why we want to make every contact count, using every opportunity to keep people well rather than just seeking to make them better.
“We want to offer a fully integrated care system, where we can reach out to people in the communities they live in – not just diagnosing and treating conditions, but working in partnership with the public and intervening before advanced disease occurs, keeping people healthy and well.
“The hugely successful NHS vaccine programme has given us the opportunity to make every contact count by going out into peoples’ communities to beat coronavirus while also catching other killer conditions.
“The checks – like the jabs – will be available in convenient locations in local communities including village halls, churches, mosques and local sports centres and prevent people becoming seriously ill.”