Practice nurses should test patients more frequently for high blood pressure, according to an action plan published by Public Health England aimed at tackling the condition that includes new figures suggesing it costs the NHS £2bn every year.
Opportunistic testing by a range of healthcare workers in primary care settings – including nurses, healthcare assistants and pharmacists, as well as GPs – should take place more often to help reach the goal of a 15% increase in hypertension diagnosis among adults, states the plan.
If this goal were reached and more people were aware of their condition, this could over the next decade save 7,000 years of life and the healthcare system around £120m that is currently spent on related health and social care, the plan claims.
Currently, nearly 40% of the estimated 12.9 million adults in England with hpertension are estimated to be undiagnosed, according to the plan, which aims to improve prevention, early detection and management of the condition.
The plan cites new figures from data management service Optimity Matrix that suggest the annual cost to the NHS in England from conditions linked to high blood pressure, such as coronary heart disease, chronic kidney disease and dementia, is more than £2bn.
“Prevention measures alongside better early detection and treatment will mean rapid improvements in the public’s health”
Other recommendations in the document, called Tackling high blood pressure: From evidence into action, include improving take-up of the NHS Health Check – an overarching systematic test for 40 to 74 year olds – and targeting high-risk and deprived groups through general practice records audits and outreach testing.
The plan notes that hypertension affects more than a quarter of adults in England, adding that it is often preventable and is made worse by lifestyle choices such as poor diet and physical inactivity.
It estimates that, in addition to the £120m that could be saved from better diagnosis, around £850m spent on related health and care services could be saved over the next decade if the average population blood pressure level were reduced through prevention methods.
To help achieve this, it recommends practitioners across a range of primary and community settings ensure they incorporate healthy lifestyle information to the public as part of their work.
Meanwhile, a further £120m that is currently spent on related services could be avoided over the next 10 years if those receiving treatment for hypertension levels saw it controlled to a lower level through lifestyle changes and drug therapy, adds the plan.
It has been developed by 12 member organisations of the Blood Pressure System Leadership Board, which includes the British Heart Foundation and Association of Directors of Public Health.
Dr Janet Atherton, president of the ADPH, said the challenge was to implement recommendations “rapidly and comprehensively”.
“Population prevention measures, such as reducing salt in the diet and tackling obesogenic environments, alongside better early detection and treatment, will mean that rapid improvements in the public’s health can be achieved, together with significant savings to a hard-pressed health and social care system,” she said.
Professor Huon Gray, national clinical director for heart disease for NHS England, said: “Over half of all strokes and many heart attacks could be prevented by ensuring people take steps to get their blood pressure into the normal range.
“Unfortunately, high blood pressure often goes unrecognised,” he said. “It’s essential that everyone has their blood pressure checked regularly and by taking simple steps like cutting some salt from the diet, or taking more exercise, high blood pressure can be reduced.”