Just one cardiovascular event prevented for every 5,000 NHS health checks

The NHS health check prevents one cardiovascular event for every 5,000 checks carried out, according to researchers who say the scheme has only 'marginal health benefits'.

Research conducted at Imperial College London – commissioned and funded by the DH – found that the NHS health check reduces the 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease by just 0.21%.

This means the programme prevents one cardiovascular event, such as stroke or heart attack, for every 4,762 people who attend a check.

Published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the study followed a representative sample of 139,000 patients who attended a health check between 2009 and 2013 and checked their outcomes two years later.

The results suggest the health check helped drive a 3% increase in the number of people diagnosed with high BP and a 1.31% increase in diabetes diagnoses.

Patients who attended the check were also shown to have a reduction in body weight of 0.27kg/m2 and a reduction in total cholesterol of 0.15mmol/L.

NHS health check

The NHS Health Check, widely touted as a ‘mid-life MOT’, was launched in 2009 and is offered to healthy patients aged 40-74 once every five years.

It is currently run by Public Health England (PHE), which says the health check adheres with gold-standard NICE guidance, and provides an opportunity for GPs to intervene to improve patients’ health and wellbeing.

Lead author Kiara Chang said the latest results call the initiative’s effectiveness into question.

‘Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death across the world – and so we urgently need effective initiatives to tackle the condition,’ she said. ‘However, these findings suggest the NHS health check scheme offers very modest benefits.’

The study showed that only 21% of people eligible for a health check attended an appointment, and  statins were prescribed to 40% of people deemed at high risk of CVD – suggesting the programme is not meeting national targets, Ms Chang added.

Health screening

‘Not only are very few people attending the appointments, but the results suggest that among those who do undergo the check, the number of high-risk patients placed on statins is below national guidelines.

‘The NICE guidance suggests all people deemed at high risk of cardiovascular disease should be considered statins, and the DH suggests 85% uptake of statins is required for the NHS health check programme to be cost-effective.’

PHE’s national lead for the health check, Jamie Waterall, said: ‘It is important that we review all emerging evidence for this programme. PHE has an established expert group which will look at the findings of this study.

‘The largest national evaluation of the programme shows that the NHS health check could have prevented 2,500 heart attacks and strokes in its first five years due to clinical treatments following the check.

‘We know that more people could benefit from the check and we are working with local teams to deliver the best possible service.’

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