NHS health checks waste £450m a year, says report

NHS health checks waste £450m a year because they fail to prevent chronic conditions or to deliver support and advice to help patients manage illness, a report has warned.

Researchers estimated that the health checks programme could cost around £450,000 per death it prevents.

The programme – which offers a ‘health MOT’ every five years to patients aged 40 to 74 without cardiovascular disease – ‘fails to achieve its two primary objectives’ according to academics from the London School of Economics and the University of Liverpool.

These two goals are to prevent heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, stroke and dementia, and to deliver support and advice to help patients manage and prevent chronic conditions

NHS funding wasted

The health checks programme ‘relies on weak concepts, denies strong scientific counter-evidence and ignores persistent implementation issues’, the report says.

All but three of the World Health Organisation’s 10-point checklist for deciding whether a screening programme is justified are not met by the health checks programme, researchers from the two universities said.

Risk calculators used to assess future risk are too unreliable, take-up is poor and could increase health inequality, the checks could undermine opportunistic case-finding in primary care, support is limited for some conditions the checks aim to find, and the huge cost of the programme is not justified by the limited numbers of deaths prevented, the report argues.

Health care professionals, services and local authorities are all mandated to implement NHSHCs. In spite of austerity policies, they are required to commit time and scarce resources to activities of debatable effectiveness and cost-effectiveness…This saps morale, particularly considering the substantial opportunity costs of failing to invest those scarce resources in alternative, more effective interventions. For instance, many child and maternal health interventions are proven to be cost-saving.

Photo: JH Lancy

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