Trailblazing initiative helps reduce risk of heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease and stroke
A GP led initiative is helping save lives and making it easier for people to ‘know their numbers’ with the use of blood pressure monitoring machines at home.
Darlington Primary Care Network (PCN) was chosen as one of only two NHS England Blood Pressure @ Home pilot scheme areas in the country, to support patients in remotely diagnosing and monitoring their own blood pressure.
The success of the four-month pilot scheme, introduced at the end of 2020, has since seen the roll out of over 350,000 blood pressure monitors to all GP practices across the country.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, rarely has any noticeable symptoms but if left untreated can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure and kidney disease – monitoring blood pressure is the only way to test for hypertension and early intervention can save lives.
High blood pressure can occur naturally with age, but lifestyle choices including poor diet, obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, excessive alcohol and increased salt intake are all contributary factors.
An ideal average home blood pressure reading is less than 135/85mmHg.
It is estimated that 3.3 million people in England live with undiagnosed high blood pressure. The NHS recommended that all adults over 40 have their blood pressure tested at least every five years and ideally every year if your blood pressure is borderline, or you have any lifestyle risk factors, so any potential problems can be detected early.
Professor Ahmet Fuat, GP with special interest in cardiology, Darlington, said: "Our Blood Pressure @ Home pilot scheme was introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, when fewer people were able to visit a GP and we were seeing a large reduction in the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of patients with high blood pressure.
"Initially we were provided with 100 blood pressure monitors, across 11 GP practices in Darlington, which enabled patients to monitor their blood pressure at home and share their readings directly with their GP.
"This then allowed doctors to diagnose and control any high blood pressure issues by tweaking medication and making patients aware of any contributory lifestyle factors."
Following the success of the pilot scheme Darlington PCN was supplied with an additional 350 monitoring machines from NHS England.
All GP practices across Tees Valley have now signed up to the programme, which forms part of the areas wider Care @ Home programme.
Darlington was also one of the first community pharmacy pilot sites with 12 of its 22 local retail pharmacies signed up to deliver blood pressure monitoring and was the first area in the country to show record blood pressure control - following the lifting of pandemic restrictions.
"Currently the NHS England target for patients to have their high blood pressure controlled is 80 percent," said Professor Fuat.
"Pre-pandemic (2019/2020) this figure was 69.8 percent and during the pandemic (2020/2021) 61.4 percent.
"Since the Blood Pressure @ Home pilot scheme was introduced, Darlington has achieved 74 percent - we still have a lot of work to do but our results are encouraging and above the current national average of 70 percent."
Darlington has also introduced mobile blood pressure monitoring clinics to help reach areas where patients may not have had access to testing.
"A recent pop-up clinic in the town centre saw 89 people tested," said Professor Fuat,
"We identified a number of those with high blood pressure including one patient with a reading of 160/100 mmHg, who had no symptoms - they were encouraged to visit their GP surgery and are now receiving the appropriate medication.
"More mobile clinics are planned, including additional town centre venues, local mosques and other places of worship.
"High blood pressure, in the vast majority of cases, cause no symptoms so it's vitally important for people to know their numbers - left untreated it can be fatal."
Executive director of placed based delivery, Central and Tees Valley, for the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB), Dave Gallagher, added: "The Darlington Blood Pressure @ Home and pharmacy monitoring programmes have proved extremely effective for patients in Tees Valley and is great learning for the rest of the North East and North Cumbria (NENC).
"As an ICB we are focused on delivering improvements across all our services, as well as tackling inequalities and improving the overall health and wellbeing of our communities.
"Therefore, our aim is to take this learning and expand the programme across the whole of the North East and North Cumbria.
"Having more points of access for people to get tested will not only help to free up GP appointments and reduce pressures on general practice, it will also empower patients to 'know their numbers', monitor their own health, get treatment when needed and ultimately save many lives."
UK's Know Your Numbers Week starts 5 September.
It is the UK's biggest blood pressure testing and awareness event, intended to raise awareness, in adults over 40, of the importance of getting your blood pressure checked.