Last year saw 49% of those offered a check receive one, but uptake for April 2014 to January 2015 stands at just 46%, meaning the organisation will have its work cut out to achieve even a minor increase within the last three months of 2014/15.
PHE intended to boost uptake to 66% by the end of March as part of its long-term aim to hit 75% uptake before the end of 2017/18.
But this 66% target is now next to impossible, dealing a significant blow to the £300m-a-year scheme.
Despite uptake levels dwindling, PHE has managed to increase the number of people being offered the check to target levels.
It consistently offers the check to around 5% of the eligible population – around 750,000 people – every quarter, meaning 100% should have received an offer over five years.
But at the current pace of offers made, PHE cannot hit its 66% target – even if uptake in this final quarter of 2014/15 (January-March) reaches 100%.
Assuming it invites around 750,000 more people this quarter, around 3m will have been offered a check overall in 2014/15.
Just over 1m have received a check so far this year. Even if 100% of the 750,000 likely to be offered a health check in the final quarter of 2014/15 accept, uptake would only reach 1.8m – 200,000 short of 66% uptake.
The NHS health check – commonly dubbed as a ‘midlife health MOT’ – is intended to offer all patients aged 40-74 a series of vascular checks every five years. It is designed to help spot risk factors for conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes early and ultimately improve outcomes.
But the programme has frequently been accused by doctors of targeting the ‘worried well’ and diverting resources away from treating patients known to already have serious conditions.
Leading GPs have expressed doubt as to whether the programme should continue given that it repeatedly falls short of all targets, suggesting that the majority of patients do not favour the scheme either.
A study released last year suggested that the scheme offered no advantage over opportunistic case-finding by GPs in diagnosing chronic diseases.
'We still need to do more'
Jamie Waterall, PHE’s national lead for programme, said that despite the fact that uptake percentage had dropped, ‘more people than ever are being invited and are having their NHS health check’.
He added: ‘But we still need to do more to ensure people take this offer up and are aware of the benefits. So we are continuing to support local areas in doing just that.
‘By increasing the number of people having an NHS health check we can prevent people from developing serious health problems in the first place, save lives and in the long run this will save the NHS money.’