Monday 14 October 2013

Evidence and outcomes: research into pharmacy delivered NHS Health Checks

Questions over measurable outcomes have been a consistent feature of the NHS Health Check debate since the programme was rolled out in 2009. Given the scope and ambition of the service, as well the vocal opposition to it, articles calling for evidence have become a regular feature in public health journals. In this post, we’ll be drawing attention to some of the empirical studies that are currently informing the debate. Specifically, these studies focus on alternative delivery methods, particularly via pharmacy.

A crucial factor to bear in mind when considering the evidence is that despite the programme being nationally mandated, there is no single mandated way of delivering it. The systems in use across England vary widely in terms of the emphasis they place on design, user-friendliness, and encouraging lifestyle improvement. The studies cited here all use a patient-focussed solution developed by Health Diagnostics. A demo of the software component of the solution may be watched here).

This evaluation focussed on a service that was delivered by community pharmacists in Leicester City.

In the introduction to the research that was published in the Journal of Public Health in March 2013, the rationale for evaluating the pharmacy-led programme is explained:

‘In the past, risk screening programmes have been exclusively undertaken within primary care sites. It has been suggested that such an approach may widen health inequalities by excluding those who do not routinely access organized health care… Subsequently, emphasis has been placed on the importance of incorporating second sector organizations in delivering a vascular risk assessment service’

This work thus assess precisely how important it is to have a ‘many-pronged’ approach when tackling local health inequalities. The study involved a sample of 2,521 individuals, which were recruited from 39 pharmacies. The method and results may be read in full here.

In short, the conclusions to the study spoke resoundingly in favour of pharmacy’s ability to identify and engage with people that may otherwise slip under the radar:

‘‘Cardiovascular risk assessment led by community pharmacists can successfully assess people from large, multi-ethnic UK populations and identify those at high cardiovascular risk or with undiagnosed cardiovascular disease. The service may improve rates of assessments undertaken by individuals who do not access health care through traditional routes.’’

By way of a comment on the particular advantages offered by pharmacy, the study’s authors noted:

‘‘The current study demonstrates the suitability of a pharmacy-led system in including those from a minority ethnic background; perhaps due to the extent to which pharmacies are integrated within local communities and their ability to provide information in a number of languages and formats.’’

This second study was carried out in the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University. It engaged 10 pharmacies delivering the NHS Health Check programme and was published in June 2010.

The report makes the following comment in regard to the collated views on the pharmacy CVD screening service:

‘‘Almost all of the participants had a positive experience of the screening process, with 96 (99.7%) agreeing that they were given enough time for the screening and that pharmacists made them feel at ease. Similar high numbers felt comfortable discussing their lifestyle with the pharmacist. Indeed for many, their expectations of what the screening would cover were exceeded. A further 91 (93.8%) participants agreed that the screening had been done in a suitable place. However, nine (10.8%) had questions that were not discussed during their consultation.’’

Seeing empirical research confirm that NHS Health Checks are being well-delivered by providers outside of GP practices is dispelling the myth that targeted lifestyle interventions can only be carried out by doctors. Given the strain that GP’s are under, as well as the pressing need to raise widespread awareness about the importance and practicalities of leading a healthy lifestyle, looking to the secondary sector should really be something for local authorities across England to consider.

For further information or a localised appraisal of the potential impact of extending the provider network, contact Health Diagnostics at or on 01244 311811. All reports are produced using evidence-based economic modelling.