A national roll out of population health checks for hypertension and atrial fibrillation in community pharmacies would have significant benefits, according to a new report launched today by the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU).
The report outlined the results of a pilot to detect people at risk of hypertension and atrial fibrillation in the community. Carried out during the summer of 2018 in 68 community pharmacies throughout Ireland, the pilot aimed to identify people 50 years of age and over who had high blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat or both. Over 1,100 people were checked in a 2-month period. Pfizer Healthcare Ireland supported the pilot study with an educational grant and the Irish Heart Foundation provided support materials and training for the pilot.
Speaking at the launch of the report on the pilot programme, the President of the Irish Pharmacy Union, Daragh Connolly, said that the results of the pharmacist-led health check pilot showed, “27% of participants were identified with high blood pressure while an irregular pulse was detected in 5.5% of participants, with 2% of participants showing signs of both. 26% of all participants checked were referred to their GP as a result of the study and 4% of those were started on medications to treat the conditions.”
“These findings are particularly important, especially when Irish data suggests that 64% of people over the age of 50 have high blood pressure and that nearly half of those are undiagnosed. Regarding atrial fibrillation, research suggests an overall Irish prevalence estimate of 3% atrial fibrillation in the over 50s.”
The service was seen as highly beneficial by both participants and pharmacists and easy to implement within the pharmacy environment. Overall, the majority of participants (83%) were happy with the information they were given by the pharmacist who undertook the health check. The pilot also raised participants’ awareness of blood pressure and pulse readings, as 91% of participants said they were more aware of blood pressure and atrial fibrillation as a result of taking part in the pilot. Virtually all participants (98.5%) said they would recommend the health check to a friend and 99% said they were happy to have taken part in the pilot.
Dr Angie Brown, Consultant Cardiologist and Medical Director, Irish Heart Foundation, said, “The Irish Heart Foundation was delighted to support this initiative. High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke and heart attack which affects almost one million people in Ireland. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common type of irregular heartbeat, with one in four people over the age of 50 at risk of developing it. People with untreated atrial fibrillation are five times more likely to have a stroke.”
Around 8,000 people will be hospitalised due to stroke in Ireland each year, with an average age of onset of 74 years. At least 1,800 stroke patients will die, with 1,000 being discharged to nursing home care and the remainder returning home. It is estimated that over 30,000 people are living with a stroke related disability in Ireland. The Cost of Stroke in Ireland study carried out for the Irish Heart Foundation by the ESRI estimated a total direct cost of stroke to the economy of up to €557 million per annum. It is also estimated that stroke incidence will increase by 59% by 2030.
Summing up the launch of the report, the Medical Director of Pfizer, Dr Declan O’Callaghan, said: “Pfizer Healthcare Ireland was pleased to support this important initiative undertaken by the IPU and supported by the Irish Heart Foundation. The findings from the pilot programme are very important and paint a vivid picture of the level of underreported hypertension and atrial fibrillation in this country. Programmes like this one demonstrate just how important it is to educate people on the importance of their heart health.”
In conclusion, Mr Connolly said, “the pilot demonstrated that, by carrying out a standardised population health check for hypertension and atrial fibrillation in the community pharmacy, a highly accessible healthcare location, community pharmacists can deliver an extremely positive benefit to participants in terms of prevention, detection and initial management of suspected hypertension and atrial fibrillation. The pilot objectives aligned perfectly with Government priorities for the health service and we believe that the findings strongly support the roll-out nationally of an HSE-funded cardiovascular health check service.”