GPC urges health checks review as MPs question screening advice

GP leaders have called for a review of the health checks programme as MPs warned GPs and other frontline health professionals should be given extra training to improve the way they communicate the risks and benefits of health screening.

Houses of parliament: MPs' warning over screening (Photo: Ian Bottle)
Houses of parliament: MPs' warning over screening (Photo: Ian Bottle)

The Commons Science and Technology Committee called on the UK National Screening Committee (NSC), which assesses the effectiveness of NHS screening programmes, to ‘step up its education programme’ to ensure all health professionals dealing with the public ‘receive regular training to refresh their communication skills, as well as their understanding of available screening programmes and their associated benefits and risks’.

The committee’s report on national health screening, published on Wednesday, said it was concerned that health professionals can struggle with screening terminology and concepts, particularly with tests for rarer conditions.

Standardise screening information

It also called on the NSC to introduce a standardised process for producing information on screening programmes, and to clarify what ‘informed choice’ means for patients being screened, so that screening programmes can be more effectively evaluated on how they deliver that choice.

The committee said the requirement for standardised screening assessments was made greater by the likelihood of wider use of genetic screening tests being introduced in the near future.

The Science and Technology Committee chair, MP Andrew Miller, said: ‘Health screening is seen in such a positive light by the public that it can be challenging to convey the negative side of the equation.

‘While screening can increase the likelihood of curing, preventing or delaying the progression of disease for some patients, for others it may lead to false results, misdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment. More needs to be done to ensure that both the benefits and risks are clearly, and even-handedly, communicated so that people can make an informed choice about whether screening is right for them.’

GPs share MPs' concerns

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘Many GPs will share the Science and Technology committee’s concerns about health screening.

‘As the BMA has repeatedly warned, it is vitally important that people being invited for screening fully understand the pros and cons of the procedure. Patients must also be aware that there is a risk that false positive results could lead to unnecessary and potentially harmful further investigations.

‘The BMA would welcome a full review of the benefits of the current NHS Health Check programme as many GPs have doubts as to its benefit and cost effectiveness. More also needs to be done to protect patients from companies promoting inappropriate health screening when in fact the evidence of benefit is often lacking.’

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register

Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us:

Just published

Medeconomics Live: Bringing you the latest in practice management thinking

Medeconomics Live: Bringing you the latest in practice management thinking

The one-day, virtual Medeconomics Live conference aims to provide essential insights...

First COVID-19 jabs to target care home residents and staff under new JCVI advice

First COVID-19 jabs to target care home residents and staff under new JCVI advice

Older adults living in care homes and staff working there will be first to receive...

GPs unable to veto virtual fitness to practise hearings during pandemic

GPs unable to veto virtual fitness to practise hearings during pandemic

GPs facing fitness to practise investigations during the COVID-19 pandemic will be...

Government rejects major NHSPS overhaul - but changes 'could ease GP service charge disputes'

Government rejects major NHSPS overhaul - but changes 'could ease GP service charge disputes'

A government review has rejected calls for a major overhaul of an NHS Property Services...

RCGP urges GPs to collaborate with pharmacies on flu jabs this year

RCGP urges GPs to collaborate with pharmacies on flu jabs this year

The RCGP and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society have called on GP practices and community...

GP appointments rising fast as COVID-19 cases 'near 10,000 a day'

GP appointments rising fast as COVID-19 cases 'near 10,000 a day'

GP appointments have risen rapidly in recent weeks as schools returned, according...