The National Stroke Foundation, Pharmacy Guild of NSW and NSW Government have teamed up to bring NSW South Coast residents free blood pressure checks and health assessments – and the pharmacies involved are finding the program very rewarding, says National Stroke Foundation NSW executive officer Greg Cantwell.
Pharmacies in more than 20 towns in the area are offering the assessments as part of the pharmacy health check: Know your numbers program, to help identify people who may be at risk of stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
“It would be great if people ordinarily just rocked into pharmacy to say, ‘hey, please check my blood pressure,’ but they don’t – and so this program is about pharmacists being proactive and targeting people who they know may be at higher risk,” Mr Cantwell told the AJP.
“There still needs to be a lot more work done to encourage people to know their blood pressure and its importance.
“Stroke’s one of those silent things that people don’t know a lot about. They don’t know the things that they can do to reduce their chance of stroke. Knowing your blood pressure is a huge one. The more people we can get knowing their blood pressure, the better off we’ll be.”
He says nearly 30,000 people in the electorate of Gilmore living with high blood pressure, many of whom would be unaware of their high risk of stroke.
Mr Cantwell says that in the two and a half years since the program began, in NSW there have been more than 300,000 checks.
“That’s huge,” he says. “Nowhere else in Australia have we seen something like that.
“Because pharmacies are everywhere, it’s allowed the program to be nicely geographically spread through NSW into the communities who really do need it.”
Kiama pharmacist Megan Kelly says the start of a new year is a good time to encourage customers to have their risk of stroke examined.
“We know the indulgence and heightened stress of the Christmas holidays can have a real impact on people’s health, and can sometimes cause a dangerous spike in blood pressure,” she says.
“Last year, it is estimated local residents suffered more than 440 strokes. This year it is vital we reduce that number by helping people become more aware of their stroke risk and what they can do to lower it.”
Mr Cantwell thanked the pharmacists and pharmacy assistants who have participated in the program.
“From talking to pharmacists, there’s a real passion and desire to provide these services to the community – it’s something they can do to improve their customers’ safety. They see daily when people aren’t well, and there’s that desire to help.
“Only 750 pharmacies can participate – and there’s a waiting list, despite the fact that funding runs out in five months. Pharmacies are still queuing up, saying, ‘we want to be part of this’.
“It’s a great thing that they’re doing. I can appreciate that in a busy pharmacy sometimes it’s hard to do all the things you want to do, but this, we know, saves lives, which I’m really pleased and grateful for.”