This pioneering innovation is consistent with the trend to bring medical services to places more convenient for consumers and was spurred by a study which showed men twice as likely to have heart attacks than women
Patient-facing healthcare gets a boost with this novel program to offer a diagnostic service in locations frequented by men. In an attempt to decrease heart attacks in the UK, the country’s National Health Service (NHS) now employs a novel approach to prevention—bringing blood pressure screenings to the public in barbershops.
This is yet another example of moving diagnostics services out of traditional healthcare settings and reaching people in places that they visit in their daily lives. True, this is a blood pressure test. But once the service is established, it should be easy to collect other types of clinical laboratory specimens at barbershops as well. And if this approach enables healthcare policy makers to reach a population that needs further diagnostic tests—and it’s economically feasible—that may encourage adoption of this approach for other types of health screenings.
According to The Guardian, the screenings will be available at “barbershops, churches, mosques, community centers, and dominoes clubs.” The intention is to ensure screenings are more accessible, to educate the public, and to encourage lifestyle changes that lead to prevention.
This consumer-directed approach to healthcare by the NHS appears to be making a difference. The new screening locations already show promise. In 2023, efforts brought in 150,000 community-based blood pressure screenings by August. That more than doubled the previous year’s 58,000 that were performed by May, The Guardian noted.
The funding for this initiative is part of the NHS’ Delivery Plan for Recovering Access to Primary Care, an NHS England news release announced.
“With the number of people living with major illnesses including heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions set to grow substantially over the coming years, it has never been more important to put in place preventive measures like easy-to-access blood pressure checks that can pick up the early signs and risks,” said David Webb (above), Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England, NHS England, in a news release. Should this program succeed, it’s likely other types of clinical laboratory test specimens could also be collected in barbershops and other convenient locations. (Photo copyright: Paul Stuart/The Pharmaceutical Journal.)
Importance of Screening
According to the UK’s Health Foundation, more than 9.1 million people will have a major illness by 2040, and figures show an increase of 2.5 million from 2019 reports. These figures are “why prevention and early intervention tools such as community blood pressure checks are key priorities for the NHS,” the NHS news release states.
“Having high blood pressure raises the risk of a heart attack, but many men and women remain unaware they may be affected because typically there are no symptoms,” The Guardian reported. “Every year there are 100,000 NHS hospital admissions due to heart attacks—one every five minutes.”
The NHS’ moves were spurred by recent findings announced at the European Society of Cardiology’s 2023 annual meeting. The world’s largest heart conference showcased a 22-year-long study examining the gender-specific risks of cardiovascular diseases. The results clearly showed that men were twice as likely to experience heart attacks and peripheral artery disease than women.
The University of Aberdeen conducted the study which ran from 1993-2018 and followed 20,000 individuals over the age of 40. While researchers noted many factors—such as ethnicity, body mass index (BMI), physical activity, deprivation, consumption of alcohol, and cigarette smoke—a clear defining line landed between male and female participants, The Guardian reported. Additionally,“Men are also more likely to experience a heart attack at a younger age than women.”
And, according to the study, while cardiovascular disease was higher for men during their entire lifetime, “sex differences were most pronounced for myocardial infarction and peripheral artery disease, followed by atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and cardiovascular mortality,” The Guardian reported, adding, “Men also have a 50% higher risk of heart failure and atrial fibrillation. The study discovered that men have a 42% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. The research did not look at why.”
Education Part of Prevention
“Men should start looking early at-risk factors, like obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption, and reach out to their GP to get those things addressed. The earlier the better. There’s no harm in minimizing your cardiovascular risk,” Tiberiu Pana, MRes, lead researcher and honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen, told The Guardian. Pana is also a junior doctor in the NHS and focuses on cardiovascular epidemiology and the brain-heart interactions.
“Coronary heart disease is the most common killer of men. There’s never been a better time to get physically active and replace that pub session with an extra session in the gym,” cardiologist Sonya Babu-Narayan, MBBS, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, told The Guardian. Babu-Narayan is also a consultant cardiologist at Royal Brompton Hospital.
Women, however, are not exempt from the risk of heart disease.
“If we consider the effects of heart disease over a lifetime, we need to remember that it costs lives for both men and women,” Babu-Narayan said. “With 30,000 women in the UK admitted to hospital with a heart attack each year, it is vital to dismantle the dogma that heart attacks are the preserve of men. Regardless of gender, cardiovascular disease is the world’s biggest killer and there are steps everyone can take to reduce their risks.”
In addition to the aforementioned community locations for screenings, NHS has launched a few other approaches to meet patients on their own turf.
A mobile blood pressure service named How’s Thi Ticker in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, “travels around local neighborhoods including to barber shops, supermarkets, and community centers, seeing more than a third of people referred to pharmacists with high blood pressure—freeing up GPs and catching early signs of heart attack and stroke risk,” according to the NHS news release.
Future Showing Further Promise
As the process continues, NHS expects to prevent 1,350 cardiovascular events every year, and expects to see 2.5 million more blood pressure checks performed in the community in England as a result of the endeavor, The Guardian noted.
One can only imagine how far this trend can go. Clinical laboratory managers and pathologists can expect healthcare policy makers in the UK to continue their efforts to bring needed diagnostic testing to underserved populations in accessible ways. This should be a win-win financially and in improving the health of the country’s population.
—Kristin Althea O’Connor