GPs have been told to prepare for extra workload as the DoH pushes ahead with plans for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening.
In a speech last week, prime minister Gordon Brown said the DoH planned to offer all men over 65 ultrasound tests to detect AAA early. It is believed the test could save more than 1,600 of the 3,000 lives lost to the condition in England each year.
Identifying patients with AAA early could lead to elective surgery and avoid the need for emergency aneurysm repair. Half of patients die from ruptures as a result of an aneurysm.
Research published by the Cochrane Library last year, showed that ultrasound screening halved the number of ruptures in men aged between 65 and 79 years, although it had no such benefit among women.
The DoH said further evidence is needed to justify AAA screening. Pilot schemes are to be set up in five centres by the end of the year, funded by £3 million earmarked from the government's comprehensive spending review.
By 2013, the DoH wants 60 centres to be operational - providing the one-off test to 32,000 men. Men aged over 65 will be allowed to apply for screening on the advice of their GP, said the DoH.
It said that, by 2018, the programme could save 700 lives a year, eventually rising to 1,600.
If plans to roll out screening across England over the next five years go ahead, further money will be needed to identify suitable facilities, buy ultrasound equipment and train staff.
Dr Surendra Kumar, chairman of the National Screening Committee and a GP in Widnes, Cheshire, said: 'Practices need to be ready to deal with the extra workload that this will involve and extra resources for GPs will be needed.'
Dr Graham Archard, a GP in Kent who has an interest in cardiology, said: 'A large number of people can develop aortic aneurysms and it's a preventable cause of death; if you can stop someone dying unnecessarily that has to be a good thing.'
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