Report Suggests ‘Health MOT’ is Having Little Impact

Despite trumpeting it as a major facet of its health care policy, the new NHS health check seems to offer negligible benefits according to recent research.

The NHS health check, offered to everyone from the age of 40, has prevented few heart attacks and strokes, and has also failed to significantly reduce the number of people who smoke.

A major study by Imperial College London, funded by the Department of Health, discovered that the scheme has only provided marginal benefits for the estimated £165 million it costs in payments to GPs for carrying out the health checks on an annual basis.

Researchers found that the programme succeeds in preventing just one heart attack or stroke for every 4,762 people who go for a check-up.

Kiara Chang, lead author of the research from the School of Public Health at Imperial, stated that the results implied that the health check scheme may not be cost-effective.

“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death across the world – and so we urgently need effective initiatives to tackle the condition. However, these findings suggest the NHS health check scheme offers very modest benefits.”

However, another possible conclusion is that the health checks do indeed identify lifestyle risk factors among patients, but that the individual must ultimately respond to this information effectively.

Ultimately, no healthcare system can force patience to look after their health and behave in a sensible fashion; the issue of personal responsibility will always have a big impact over health outcomes.

However, among a representative sample of 138,788 people who went for a health check between 2009 and 2013, the 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease was reduced by 0.21%, the study found.

There were also only small decreases in blood pressure, cholesterol levels and BMI.

It has also been suggested that the take up of the scheme has overall been disappointing.

Only 21% of eligible persons ultimately attended the health check, although it can at least be reflected that this kept down the overall cost of the scheme.

The aforementioned Chang concluded that the health check is failing to meet national targets, and that its efficacy must be assessed as a result.

“Not only are very few people attending the appointments, but the results suggest that among those who do undergo the check, the number of high-risk patients placed on statins is below national guidelines. The Nice guidance suggests all people deemed at high risk of cardiovascular disease should be considered for statins, and the Department of Health suggests 85% uptake of statins is required for the NHS health check programme to be cost-effective.”

Prof Azeem Majeed, principal investigator on the study which was published in the Canadian Medical Journal, outlined some ways that the NHS can improve the efficacy of the health check, and suggested how it can be implemented more effectively.

“For the NHS health check scheme to be effective, it needs to be better planned and implemented – our work will help highlight how this can be done. In future we plan to evaluate whether particular groups – for instance older patients – have greater health benefits from the check than younger patients. It would also be interesting to investigate the reasons why the health check produced such modest benefits. For instance, to evaluate the advice patients are given during the health check.”

 

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