GP leaders attack universal 'Cuba-style' health checks plan

Plans to force GPs in Northern Ireland to give annual health checks to every patient on their practice list would hugely increase workload and damage patient care, the GPC has warned.

Dr Tom Black: plans would drive up consultations by 18%
Dr Tom Black: plans would drive up consultations by 18%

The Northern Ireland Assembly's health committee called on ministers to make GPs offer annual health 'MOTs' to all patients to promote healthy living and spot disease earlier.

The scheme would be similar to an existing one in Cuba, where all patients visit their GP for a health check-up each year.

But GPC Northern Ireland said the idea was 'impractical and not evidence-based', and would force GPs to cancel one in five consultations with sick patients.

Following a debate at Stormont on Monday, the health, social services and public safety committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly concluded: 'That this assembly calls on the minister of health, social services and public safety to make it mandatory for GPs to provide annual health checks for their patients to help promote good health, prevent ill health and detect disease at an early stage.'

But Northern Ireland GPC chairman Dr Tom Black told GP the plan would lead to 1.8m more  consultations per year. 'That's an 18% increase in workload. We are not prepared to do that. It's 1.8m consultations for sick patients that we wouldn't do.'

He added: 'We're very disappointed that the politicians failed to listen to the submission from the BMA on the subject, and particularly to evidence published in the BMJ in 2012, based on a Cochrane review, that annual health checks are not evidence-based and are a waste of time and money.'

He said the GPC would put its concerns to the health minister on Wednesday afternoon, and try to persuade the health, social services and public safety committee to withdraw its proposal.

The motion was proposed by Sue Ramsey MLA (Sinn Fein, West Belfast), chairwoman of the health, social services and public safety committee, who had addressed a conference on health inequalities in Havana, Cuba in December.

Afterwards, she said: 'I will be discussing with the Public Health Agency how we might apply some of the lessons from Cuba to the development of our new public health strategy.'

A committee spokeswoman declined to comment.

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