Screening programme lacks evidence

The PM's national screening programme for CVD is 'populist and inconsistent', says GPC.

The National Screening Committee has said that there is not enough evidence to back Gordon Brown's screening programme for cardiovascular disease (CVD) in England.

The prime minister's announcement was also branded 'inconsistent' and 'populist' by the GPC.

On Monday, Mr Brown announced plans for an NHS screening plan to be available for all patients in England by 2011.

Under the proposal, all patients regardless of age or risk profile, would be eligible for tests for diabetes, chronic kidney disease (CKD), chronic lung diseases, CVD and stroke risk.

Diagnostic tests to be made available at GP surgeries include ultrasound, electrocardiograms (ECGs) and a range of blood tests.

Mr Brown said the services would be available 'when you want and when you need them'.

But chairman of the National Screening Committee Dr Surendra Kumar, who is also a GP in Widnes, Cheshire, said the cost-effectiveness and efficacy of such a programme was unproven.

'We do this type of screening just as good practice every day,' he said. 'It is not clear cut whether this will help the general population, and we will not recommend this until it is.'

Last year GP reported a DoH official saying that plans for CVD screening were being scrapped because it 'isn't very effective' (GP, 22 June 2007).

Responding to the latest announcement, GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'What's changed is that Gordon Brown needs to be re-elected - clearly offering such a health check is quite populist.'

GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said it remained unclear how extra staff, training and equipment required for increased diagnostic capacity would be funded, and how the screening programmes would be incentivised.

The BMA has accused the DoH of inconsistency after it threatened to remove quality framework points that improve care of patients with diabetes, COPD, CHD and those at risk of strokes during contract negotiations. It is also unlikely that there will be new quality indicators for heart failure and peripheral vascular disease services, despite recommendations from the expert review panel.

The DoH has also given the go-ahead for an ultrasound screening programme for early abdominal aortic aneurysm for men over 65 to be rolled out in GP practices over five years.

The Pm's plan
Mr Brown wants GPs to screen for:

  • Diabetes
  • CKD
  • Chronic lung diseases
  • CVD
  • Stroke risk

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