Every high street NHS pharmacy in England will begin offering blood pressure checks to people aged 40 and over in the autumn.
The NHS estimated that 3,700 strokes and 2,500 heart attacks could be prevented over the next five years as a result of the additional testing capacity, potentially saving around 2,000 lives.
It said that if 2.5 million people get their blood pressure checked at a local pharmacy, an additional 250,000 cases of hypertension are likely to be uncovered and treated.
“More high street heart checks for blood pressure will mean more rapid detection of killer conditions and quicker treatment for patients who need it,” said professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director.
“The NHS long term plan aims to crack down on killer conditions and this action by pharmacy teams will go a long way in helping us achieve our ambitions of saving more lives.”
Dr Shahed Ahmad, national clinical director for cardiovascular disease prevention, said: “Cardiovascular disease claims 136,000 lives a year and is a major cause of health inequalities with about half of heart attacks and strokes are associated with high blood pressure.
“The detection and control of high blood pressure is one of the best things we can do to save lives and reduce health inequalities. Community pharmacists are ideally placed to deliver this life saving work and I am delighted they are now offering blood pressure checks.”
Pharmacists will also be able to provide clinical and lifestyle advice or referral to GPs and other local services, which the NHS said would speed up access to care.
The service could help alleviate the backlog of care needs following the Covid-19 pandemic, said British Heart Foundation director of policy and influencing John Maingay.
“We estimate that there are up to 4.8 million people in the UK living with undiagnosed high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, and most people don’t know they have it until they get it measured by a healthcare professional,” he said.
“This breakthrough programme will also help with the devastating burden of backlog to care left by the Covid-19 pandemic, which could see the number of people waiting for heart care and diagnosis peak at around 550,385 in January 2024.”
Community pharmacy teams will also take an expanded role in supporting people diagnosed with heart failure, high cholesterol, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, gout and osteoporosis, who will now be able to access advice about how to get the most from newly prescribed medicines.
From next year, pharmacies will begin offering NHS smoking cessation services to people who have recently been discharged from hospital. Patients will be offered support sessions over 12 weeks with a trained pharmacist.