NHS health checks fall 'considerably short' of targets

The NHS health check programme has 'fallen considerably short' of its targets almost 10 years after it was launched, a report reveals.

Attendance, uptake and prescribing rates for NHS health checks are all lower than the government anticipated when the scheme was launched in 2009, according to a systematic review published in the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP).

Originally, the DHSC envisaged that all 15m eligible patients would be invited for an NHS health check and that 75% would attend. But statistics from 2013 to 2018 show that 45% of eligible adults across England attended a health check. The data show that 48% of all those invited took up the invitation - suggesting a health check was offered to just over 14m patients in total.

It was also hoped that 85% of attendees with high cholesterol or CVD risk would be prescribed statins following health checks, but the report found that between 18% and 63% of those with high CVD risk were offered the drugs after health checks in different parts of the country.

Optimistic forecast

‘This study identified data showing that both the anticipated coverage and uptake used in the Department of Health model were too optimistic,' the researchers wrote.

‘When judged against the (ambitious) objective of inviting all eligible individuals in each five-year cycle, and the expected aggregate gains in population health arising from high coverage (expected in the model to be 75%), the evidence shows the programme has fallen considerably short.’

However, despite attendance targets being missed, health checks were found to be positively correlated with small increases in disease diagnosis, decreases in cardiovascular disease and increased prescribing of blood pressure and cholesterol lowering medication.

The report concluded that coverage was higher among older people, those with a family history of heart disease and those living in deprived areas - contrasting with previously-voiced opinions that the majority of attendees would be the ‘worried well’.

Low uptake

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘These findings echo what we repeatedly said at the time the NHS health check was introduced. Most people don't want or need a health check so the uptake is in line with what would be expected.

‘It would be far better to target this important but limited resource to a greater extent than is currently the case.’

Around 85% of the 1.5m health checks conducted every year take place in general practice, but support has been variable among GPs. In 2013 the RCGP called the health check scheme a 'waste of money'.

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