Nearly half a million people missed out on starting medication to lower their blood pressure between March 2020 and the end of July 2021, according to a study by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
If these individuals’ high blood pressure remains untreated over their lifetime, researchers estimate that this could lead to more than 13,500 additional cardiovascular events, including over 2,000 cardiac arrests and 3,000 strokes.
Lead author Professor Reecha Sofat, Associate Director at the BHF Data Science Centre, warned: “Measures to prevent infection spread were necessary and undoubtedly saved lives.
“The NHS has already taken important and positive steps towards identifying people with high blood pressure as early as possible. However, we need this focus to be sustained in the long-term to prevent any increase in heart attacks and strokes which will add to a healthcare system already under extreme pressure.”
The researchers examined 1.32 billion records of medications dispensed to 15.8 million people in England, Scotland and Wales between April 1, 2018 and July 31, 2021.
They found that, by the first half of 2021, on average, 27,070 fewer people started taking blood pressure lowering medication each month between compared with 2019.
In the same period, they found that 16,744 fewer people started taking medication to reduce levels of fat or cholesterol in their blood each month.
The BHF said that identifying those who missed out on blood pressure treatment within five years would reduce the total number of cardiovascular events to just over 2,700.
Prof Sofat added: “Despite the incredible work done by NHS staff, our data show that we’re still not identifying people with cardiovascular risk factors at the same rate as we were before the pandemic.
“Detecting these risk factors early and beginning medication where appropriate is crucial to manage them, helping more people to avoid a preventable heart attack or stroke so they can live in good health for longer.”
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation and consultant cardiologist, said: “Yet again we’re seeing clear evidence of the major disruption to healthcare people in the UK experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“But it’s not too late to limit the damage. These findings demonstrate how getting heart healthcare back on track can curb the additional strain that untreated risk factors such as high blood pressure would otherwise place on the NHS.
“We need to make it easier and more accessible for everyone to know their numbers - particularly their blood pressure and cholesterol. This means empowering people to access the help they need when they need it so they can be supported to manage their own health.”