Health checks relaunched to target 15m patients

Public health chiefs have relaunched the NHS Health Check programme to target 15m patients over five years, but admitted they must do more to convince sceptical GPs of the benefits.

Practices will be benchmarked on how many checks they provide
Practices will be benchmarked on how many checks they provide

Public Health England (PHE) unveiled new plans for how it will run the flagship screening programme with local authorities, which took control of organising checks in April.

GP practices will be benchmarked on how many checks for BP, cholesterol, weight and lifestyle they provide, with data on local areas' performance published on a new website to boost transparency.

An expert panel will track progress and review evidence for the scheme, including how best to drive patient uptake and whether new tests should be added.

The programme, first launched in 2009, struggled to achieve DH targets in its first four years. A recent GP investigation found under half of patients turned up to their check last year, while dozens of PCTs failed to offer enough checks to their population.

GP leaders had warned that practices may abandon offering checks due to mounting workload.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt issued a 'call to action' on Sunday, and repeated DH estimates from 2009 that the checks could prevent 650 deaths, 1,600 heart attacks and 4,000 cases of diabetes a year.

Local authorities have been handed the same targets as PCTs: to offer checks to 20% of adults aged 40-74 each year, and to make sure three-quarters accept a check-up.

PHE will also launch social marketing campaigns to encourage patients to respond to their invitation letter.

Some GPs remain sceptical about the checks, particularly in light of mixed evidence from recent studies.

In an interview with GP, Professor Kevin Fenton, PHE's director of health and wellbeing, said PHE and local authorities would work to convince practices the programme is worthwhile, and to  'mobilise' them and other providers to provide more checks.

He said: 'We heard that [some] GPs are not viewing this as a priority for them. It will be about working with GP groups to ensure mobilisation of networks for implementation. PHE will be releasing a summary of evidence and looking at the evidence moving forward.'

This will involve closer ties between local authorities, PHE teams, CCGs, LMCs and practices, he said.

He added that it was important GPs feel 'adequately compensated' for providing the checks, after some expressed concerns about reimbursement.

Professor Fenton said: 'It starts at the GP practice, and ends at the GP practice. We need to work with practices to see who needs to be invited. Relationships are critical.'

Practice-level data on how many checks are being performed will be used to analyse which areas need to improve.

'Building that spirit of evidence-informed practice will resonate with many GPs and reassure them that the programme is on the right track,' he said.

Professor Fenton added that it was an 'amazing opportunity for local authorities to take leadership' on public health. 'The reality is that in an environment where the main drivers of disability are not infectious diseases but non-communicable diseases alcohol, diet, smoking and obesity are among the main drivers of premature mortality.

'At a population level, [we must] engage more people with the risks of ill health. Where risks are identified, we need early risk management and referral to appropriate services.

'It's about changing the balance from a disease-focused healthcare system to one that is focused on wellbeing.'

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