NHS Health Check falls short of its target

Health news

Fewer than half of people eligible for a mid-life NHS Health Check in England actually received one, according to a review of evidence.

The Department of Health had initially expected the take-up would be on a par with the national breast screening programme, with around 75 per cent of patients being monitored.

But researchers led by the University of Leeds said the low take-up was due in part to people not being invited for a health check - and people being invited but declining to take part.

Public Health England, which funds the scheme, has separately revealed that between 2013 and 2017 around three out of four people (78 per cent) eligible for the check were offered one.

“...whilst the evidence remains limited, the NHS Health Check appears to improve rates of disease detection for what seems like a reasonable cost.

Dr Adam Martin

NHS Health Check was designed to spot the early signs of heart or kidney disease, diabetes or dementia, or to identify people at risk of getting those conditions – with patients being offered lifestyle advice or preventative medication such as statins.

The review of evidence on the NHS Health Check programme, led by the University and published today (Tuesday, June 19) in the British Journal of General Practice, revealed that between 2013 and 2017, only 46 per cent of eligible individuals had got a check-up.

Although the review found numbers of people taking part in a health check were below expectations, it did show that people at the greatest risk of experiencing ill-health were likely to engage: individuals with a family history of heart disease, or who lived in deprived areas or were from some ethnic minority groups.

The NHS Health Check programme was introduced in 2009 to offer health screening to everyone between 40 and 74 who had not already been diagnosed with the conditions being targeted, as part of the Government’s Empowering Patients and Preventing Illness strategy.

The researchers revealed that the programme was introduced without any “robust economic evaluation…” of its likely impact.

The study systematically reviewed 26 separate studies that had been conducted into the programme and its outcomes.

Those studies revealed a wide variation in take up, with just 19 per cent of people taking up an invitation to be screened in some areas. The researchers also revealed that the check-ups resulted in a small increase in diseases being spotted compared to people who did not attend the screening.

The researchers reported that one cardiovascular event such as a heart attack was prevented for every 4,762 people attending for a health check.

Lead researcher Dr Adam Martin, Research Fellow at the Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, said: “This evidence refutes the argument that the programme is only attracting the ‘worried well’. People who are more at risk of experiencing ill health are engaging with the programme.

“Furthermore, whilst the evidence remains limited, the NHS Health Check appears to improve rates of disease detection for what seems like a reasonable cost.

“However, a question remains about whether there are sufficient resources in general practice to ensure that everyone who would like to benefit from the scheme is able to do so.”

Dr Martin said further research was required to identify what long-term health benefits the NHS health check programme may be delivering.

The research was funded by Public Health England.

For more information, please contact David Lewis in the University of Leeds press office on 0113 343 8059 or by email, david.lewis@leeds.ac.uk