Peer calls for health check campaign

A national awareness campaign is needed to promote NHS health checks, a crossbench peer has argued.

Baroness Young: public awareness is the 'missing link' in the health checks campaign
Baroness Young: public awareness is the 'missing link' in the health checks campaign

The call comes after GP magazine found millions of people are missing out on the checks due to poor provision and uptake.

Baroness Barbara Young, who is chief executive of Diabetes UK, said a campaign would increase people's awareness of their 'entitlement' to a check. It would also drive NHS mangers to make sure enough checks are offered in their area, she said.

The Labour Party has blamed the government's NHS reorganisation for the slow roll-out of the programme.

The GP investigation found a fifth (21%) of PCTs are set to fail mandatory DH targets for health checks in 2012/13 despite being given three years to prepare.

The story was picked up by BBC News, regional BBC radio stations, the Daily Telegraph and the Evening Standard.

Baroness Young told GP the NHS health check was a 'really important programme' despite scepticism from some GPs.

She said public awareness was the 'missing link' in the campaign. GP's investigation found just 54% of patients turned up for a check when invited in 2011/12.

'We've never had a proper public awareness campaign around the NHS Health Check or around the need for early diagnosis of diabetes,' she said.

'We've got to [have a] "Get Seen, Get Screened, Get Sorted" kind of motto.

'We think there should be a publicly funded campaign to make the public aware they've got an entitlement to this and they ought to be seeking this, so at least there's a bit of patient power.'

Baroness Young warned the planned transfer of responsibility for the checks to local authorities could lead to further disruption to the scheme.

'We've got to be really careful about how this transfers to public health and the local authorities, because although it's going to be mandated in the requirement in the public health outcomes framework, operating frameworks don't always deliver the goods,' she said.

'We've got to make sure that there's a seamless transfer and we don't get a further reduction and patchiness. But also that when we begin to see the numbers really going up, we also need some clarity about what happens next once people have been identified.'

Berkshire GP Dr George Kassianos said practices needed more support to offer the checks.

He said: 'Targeted screening for cardiovascular disease and diabetes in primary care is extremely important for patients as well as for the NHS. But it must be approached in a serious way rather than try to fit it in one way or another so that the local primary care organisations can tick the box for the DH.

My practice participated in the pilot and, therefore, costed the project. We soon found out the payment was well below the expenses, let alone the effort. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to expect GPs to partly finance such a national project.'

Commenting on GP magazine's findings, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: 'Doctors gave explicit warnings to the government that re-organising the NHS at a time of financial stress would damage patient care.

'Those warnings were ignored but it is exactly what is happening. Patients are paying the price for the Government's arrogance and inability to listen.'

He added: 'The prime minister allowed the existing structures of the NHS to be dismantled before new ones were in place and that has left to drift, loss of grip and failure to implement important programmes, such as health checks. That is why we are seeing this fall in the number of patients taking up the health check.

'NHS managers have been distracted on internal restructuring instead of improving public health and responsibility for that can be laid directly at the door of the prime minister.'

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