Health MOTs will attract worried well

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Plans for 'life checks' to assess people's risk of ill health at five points during their lives have received a frosty reception from GPs sceptical about the evidence supporting their introduction.

The 'health MOTs' would be available on a voluntary basis at birth, at age 11, at 18, when a 'new parent' and around 50. They will be rolled out from 2007.

An online or paper questionnaire will identify those at risk of ill health.

Health trainers will then offer a personal health plan with guidance on diet, exercise and debilitating health factors, and tell patients to seek further medical advice if necessary.

Recruitment of health trainers has begun in deprived areas. In a Times interview, deputy CMO Fiona Adshead said: 'By 2007, we expect to have 1,200 trainers in place, who will see 74,000 clients.'

Dr Colin Kenny, a GP in Dromore, County Down, with an interest in diabetes, said the plans gave him a feeling of deja vu.

'The government hasn't learnt from the mistakes of its predecessors.

The health-promotion clinics of the 90s were scrapped because they were a waste of resources,' he said.

Dr Kenny said voluntary life checks would fail to reach the people they could help most: 'The worried well with their lists from the internet will be interested, but not people at greatest risk of poor health. Targeting 18-year-olds just won't work.'

Dr Ann McPherson, an Oxford GP with an interest in adolescent health, queried offering life checks to 11-year-olds.

'This seems too early,' she said. 'It would be better to tell young people how to look after their health as they reach puberty. I'd like to see the evidence that was used to choose this age.'

Life checks will focus primarily on lifestyle. But Dr Ian Campbell, former president of the National Obesity Forum and a GP in Nottingham, said there were better ways to spend the money.

'Those who turn up for an MOT would have done so in any case. Spending on national campaigns would reach more people,' he said.

A regular health check was the most popular request when the DoH asked what patients would like from the NHS.

Dr Campbell said more emphasis should have been put on evidence: 'It's good headline material but whether it will have a significant impact on the health of the nation remains to be seen.'

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