Free NHS blood pressure monitors will help us save lives

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It is hoped that patients checking their levels at home will highlight far earlier the potentially fatal onset of hypertension, known as the silent killer. The 220,000 DIY monitors, costing £17 each, will allow patients to spot their high blood pressure more effectively and send alerts to GPs.

Hypertension affects around 12 million in England alone. It can put a strain on organs, increasing the chances of heart disease, kidney problems and vascular dementia.

The cuff monitors will go to patients chosen by their GP in a £3.8million scheme funded by the health service’s digital  branch NHSX. Dr Nikki Kanani, medical director of primary care for the NHS, said the machines will let people quickly update GPs.

Health chiefs hope the scheme will prevent 2,200 heart attacks and 3,300 strokes over five years, and save thousands of lives.

High blood pressure is the “silent killer” as it can go unnoticed. But when results from home monitoring are passed to GPs, problems can be spotted sooner. 

Dr Kanani said: “These simple checks will help us to save lives.

“It’s vital that people with high blood pressure keep track of their levels, so they can report any significant changes that could indicate a potentially deadly stroke or heart attack. This simple but lifesaving innovation offers people efficient and convenient care.

“By using these monitors, and reporting the readings to local teams, patients are able to quickly and easily update GP teams with a regular snapshot of their blood pressure health.”

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) estimates that 28 percent of adults in England, around 12 million, have high blood pressure ‑ and less than half are receiving effective treatment.

Some 8.5 million have a diagnosis but as many as 3.5 million are thought to be undiagnosed.

More than 65,000 monitors have been issued already to patients with high blood pressure that is uncontrolled and NHS officials expect the majority of the rollout will be distributed this year.

Users take readings at home and send them to their surgery by phone, or via email or another digital platform, so staff can decide if treatment needs to be altered.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the BHF and a consultant cardiologist, said it was vital that patients with high blood pressure have their measurements tracked regularly to ensure it is being treated effectively.

She said: “People diagnosed with uncontrolled high blood pressure have an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

“This important initiative, supported by the BHF, means people with heart conditions can monitor their blood pressure themselves at home which reduces the need to travel for consultations.”

The monitors use an arm cuff connected to a machine to measure the pressure of blood being pumped around the body. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and given as two figures ‑ systolic (when the heart pushes blood out) and diastolic (when it rests between beats).

It is considered high if over 135/85 mmHg for people under 80, or 145/85 mmHg for over-80s. For an accurate reading, patients typically are advised to take measurements daily, in the morning and evening, for four consecutive days.

Their GP may ask for readings each month or every six months to keep track of their condition, although advice will vary depending on the patient.

Home monitoring can give more accurate readings, as anxiety caused by being tested in a surgery can affect the result. It also saves time for patients and doctors by reducing physical visits.

The devices sell for around £20 but officials hope that offering them free on the NHS will stop that cost deterring people who need them most. 

They expect some costs to be offset by savings made from reducing the number of heart attack and stroke patients.

Lisa Hollins, director of innovation at NHSX, said: “By providing this tech to people in their own homes we can reach people who might not otherwise have access to regular monitoring and improve care for those who need it most, delivering on the NHS Long Term Plan’s ambition to reduce health inequalities.

“NHSX was delighted to support the funding of hundreds of thousands of blood pressure monitors and extra support for frontline primary care staff.

“The pandemic has shown patients want to be more involved and active in their own health, and home remote monitoring for blood pressure or other conditions is good for patients ‑ and good for the NHS.”

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Prof Graham MacGregor, chairman of the charity Blood Pressure UK, welcomed the scheme but also wants patients to be given clear instructions on using the devices.

He called for even greater action: “My vision in the future would be that every family or every person has their own blood pressure monitor and they would know what their blood pressure is. Blood pressure is the biggest killer in the world because of the number of strokes and heart disease it causes.

“One of the ways of improving the management and getting more people on to treatment is obviously for everyone to have their own blood pressure monitor.”

Everyone who is aged over 40 is advised to have their blood pressure checked at least once every five years.

Since last month, every NHS pharmacy in England is able to provide the lifesaving tests.

Blood pressure is also measured during NHS Health Check appointments offered to adults in England aged 40-74, at home or at a local GP surgery.

‘It’s a great idea’

Roger Phipps was given a home blood pressure monitor on the NHS after being diagnosed with the condition during a routine check-up.

His wife, Joyce, is a liver transplant recipient and has to take drugs that weaken her immune system, which has left her vulnerable to infections.

As a result, she has been shielding at home since the pandemic began and having the monitor has allowed Roger to limit trips to his GP and help keep her safe.

The retired businessman, 75, from Oxford said: “I was grateful to receive a free blood pressure monitor from my GP surgery recently, which is simple and easy to use.

“I’d visited my doctor for a regular check-up and was diagnosed with high blood pressure.”

Roger takes readings at home and then sends them to his GP surgery for checking.

He added: “After discussion with the GP, I feel I understand my blood pressure better and feel happy I can monitor it at home and send it to the GP without going across town.

“I think it’s a great idea and a handy way of keeping an eye on my health.”

‘It’s really important that patients know their numbers’

Zena Forster, 65, bought a blood pressure monitor after suffering a mini-stroke five years ago followed by a heart attack.

She now tracks her health very carefully and follows a strict diet and exercise regime.

Zena said of her mini-stroke: “It came out of the blue. I was overweight but I walked everywhere, I did my 10,000 steps [a day].

“It was sudden and then even more sudden was the heart attack the following year.”

She was diagnosed with familial hypercholesterolemia, an inherited condition that can lead to high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. She now takes medication, exercises daily and follows a healthy diet to reduce her risk of further problems.

Zena, who lives in Newcastle with husband Ray, added: “I take [my blood pressure] myself and then if I’m concerned or it’s persistently either too high or too low, I mention it to my GP at my next check.

“It’s really important that patients know their numbers because having high blood pressure, they won’t necessarily feel anything or know they have it.”

Comment by Shahed Ahmad

It is estimated that there are over eight million people living with high blood pressure, or hypertension, in England.

Left untreated, this condition can increase your risk of serious problems and life-threatening events, including heart attacks and strokes.

However, with regular monitoring and management, you can significantly reduce the risk of developing these conditions.

Assessing your blood pressure is simple and may save your life. Convenient monitoring is available at GP surgeries, high street pharmacies or at work but you can also use at-home pressure monitors.

Figures show that home blood pressure monitoring for 50,000 patients with diagnosed hypertension could prevent up to 300 heart attacks and 477 strokes over three years.

It is really important that people over 40 get their blood pressure checked regularly.

You can do this through your NHS Health Check appointment offered to adults in England aged 40-74, or by visiting your pharmacist or local GP surgery.

Shahed Ahmad is national clinical director for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention 

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