High-street blood checks promised in NHS England shake-up

<span>Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA</span>
Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Blood checks will be available in betting shops and specialists in children’s mental health drafted in to GP surgeries in some parts of England as part of a major shake-up of the NHS.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS England’s chief executive, pledged that 42 new “integrated care systems” (ICSs) launched on Friday would “transform” how healthcare is provided and cut avoidable deaths.

She cited those initiatives as examples of how the ICSs will set about boosting the prevention of ill-health, improving diagnosis of disease and getting patients into treatment faster.

A GP practice in Stockport has pioneered offering customers in betting shops checks of their blood pressure and has identified some who had worryingly high readings. Over the jubilee weekend, for example, they assessed 75 people, and have previously run checks at a shopping centre.

NHS England has promised to put mental health staff, including wellbeing practitioners, into family doctor practices to help the growing number of under-18s with problems such as anxiety, depression and self-harm.

“Integrated care systems have the power to truly transform the way that we care for people up and down the country.

“Not only will the NHS provide care when someone is unwell or has an accident, but alongside our local government partners we must also act now and play an increasing key role in managing people’s health so that we can catch more killer conditions earlier and save lives,” said Pritchard.

The ICSs are powerful new statutory bodies that have replaced the clinical commissioning groups set up in 2013. They will bring together all those who provide different sorts of care in the NHS, such as GP surgeries, acute hospitals and mental health services. But they will also involve local councils and promote joint working to improve social care provision.

The British Heart Foundation welcomed the push for quicker identification of high blood pressure, which is the main cause of stroke and heart attacks.

“Boosting community health checks like blood pressure monitoring is exactly what is needed after so many were suspended during the pandemic. These vital checks can help prevent and manage heart and circulatory diseases, and even save lives, so it’s really important they’re easy to access in the community”, said John Maingay, its director of policy and influencing.

However, the British Medical Association cautioned that staff shortages across the NHS and social care might limit the ability of ICSs to improve health.

“This marks the second major restructure in the NHS in a decade and significant questions remain unanswered about the ability of integrated care systems to achieve the changes patients and doctors need, especially given that they are going live at a time when staff and services are still dealing with the intense pressures of the pandemic”, said Dr David Wrigley, its deputy chair.

“Ultimately, no reorganisation can mask the fact that we simply do not have enough staff across the NHS or the care sector, and not until the workforce crisis is solved will we truly be able to offer people the care they need and deserve.”