Pharmacies across England are to start offering free heart check-ups, testing blood pressure and cholesterol.
It is hoped that the roll-out will prevent as many as 150,000 heart attacks and strokes in the next 10 years.
Chief Executive of Heart Research UK Kate Bratt-Farrar told the Irish World: “It is estimated that 7 million people in the UK are living with cardiovascular disease, and coronary heart disease is still the nation’s single biggest killer, responsible for more than 66,000 deaths a year.
“Despite this, many people are still not aware of the risk factors. That’s why these free, accessible checks are so welcome. The more people that are aware of their blood pressure and cholesterol numbers the better, as they can then take positive steps to reduce their risk of heart disease.
“Diagnosis of conditions such as atrial fibrillation or high blood pressure by pharmacists will allow the right steps to be taken for patients sooner, reducing GPs workloads and allowing for earlier intervention.
“Anything that can reduce stress on the NHS and help to improve public knowledge around heart disease can only be a good thing.”
In the past decade, Heart Research UK has funded £10.2m in medical research in hospitals and universities and £2.2m on community-based lifestyle projects.
The pharmacy heart checks are being funded as part of a £13 billion five-year contract for community pharmacies.
The initial roll-out will be across several hundred pharmacies.
Those pharmacies that have already been offering the checks on a pilot scheme say it works well and say identifying people with high blood pressure or atrial fibrillation has improved care and saved GPs’ time.
NHS national medical director Prof Stephen Powis said: “Heart disease and strokes dramatically cut short lives, and leave thousands of people disabled every year, so rapid detection of killer conditions through High Street heart checks will be a game-changer.”
The British Heart Foundation’s Simon Gillespie said: “Millions of people in England are living with conditions such as high blood pressure which, if left untreated, significantly increase the risk of having a potentially deadly heart attack or stroke.
“Reaching more people and encouraging them to check their blood pressure, working with them to lower it where necessary, will play an absolutely critical role in saving lives in the coming years.
“Giving a greater role to community pharmacists in helping increase early detection of heart and circulatory diseases is a very welcome move that will help the NHS deliver its Long-Term Plan commitment to prevent 100,000 heart attacks and strokes over the next 10 years.
“Once people are diagnosed with high blood pressure, raised cholesterol or atrial fibrillation, they can then be supported to manage their condition, which will reduce their risk of heart attack or stroke, and ultimately could save their life.”
People aged between 40 and 74 should be routinely checked for early signs of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, kidney problems or dementia.