Health check revival pledged by Public Health England fails to materialise

Uptake for the NHS's flagship health check scheme remained stagnant at less than 50% in the last financial year, despite a Public Health England (PHE) pledge to increase it to 66% by April 2015.

BP test: health checks are a chance to catch disease early (Photo: JH Lancy)
BP test: health checks are a chance to catch disease early (Photo: JH Lancy)

Less than half (49%) of patients offered an NHS health check took up the offer in 2014/15, the second year PHE has presided over the programme, figures released for the year’s final quarter confirm.

This figure remains unchanged from 2013/14 uptake – also 49% – and considerably short of PHE’s ambitious target for a ‘step change’ rise in uptake to 66% by the end of the last financial year.

The latest data leave PHE facing a battle to achieve its long-term aim of 75% uptake across all 15.5m people eligible for a health check by the end of 2017/18. All people aged 40-74 without a pre-existing health condition are eligible for a health check, and PHE aims to invite roughly 20% of the target group for assessment each year.

GPOnline reported in March that the target would be missed, after poor uptake of the scheme throughout the year.

More offers made

However, PHE said ‘over 100,000 more patients’ had received a check in 2014/15 than the previous year, as the number of patients receiving an offer for a check reached new highs.

Jamie Waterall, national lead for the NHS Health Check programme, said PHE remained committed to supporting local teams to ‘successfully implement the programme’.

He said: ‘Overall uptake of the programme remains at around 49%, however, quarter 4 data for 2014/15 showed a significant increase at 56.3% which is the highest uptake reported in any single quarter since the programme started.

‘Around two-thirds of deaths among people under the age of 75 in England are estimated to be avoidable, and there are still high numbers of undiagnosed cases of disease such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes. The NHS Health Check provides us with an opportunity to focus our attention on addressing these preventable conditions.’

Louise Ansari, director of prevention of type 2 diabetes at Diabetes UK, warned: ‘These health checks are essential as they are an opportunity to identify and potentially prevent or delay serious health conditions.

‘That around half of people with type 2 diabetes already show signs of serious complications by the time they are diagnosed reflects the urgent need for local authorities to ensure health checks are both offered and taken up by everyone in their area who is eligible to receive them.

‘Until this happens people will continue to suffer avoidable but devastating health complications, and the already strained NHS budget will continue to pay the price.’

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