NHS Health Check Programme under fire

There’s a bit of a bun fight going on in the media between Public Health England who run the NHS Health Check Programme and several of its detractors including Professor Clare Gerada, Chair of the RCGP (Royal College of General Practitioners).

Professor Gerada is calling for the NHS Health Check Programme to be scrapped in favour of spending the money elsewhere, basing her reasoning on research carried out by the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark, published last year.

The research was described as ‘a systematic review that concluded that general health checks were not beneficial and would likely lead to unnecessary diagnoses and treatments’. You can read the research by clicking here.

A really good summary of the issues can be found here in Pulse magazine.

Here’s my take on the debate:

  • I’m not convinced that the Danish research – including analysis of many really old studies  – draws on the same tests, rationale and outcomes of the relatively new NHS Health Check Programme.
  • The NHS has allocated a tiny % of its overall budget to the programme with the logically sound argument that prevention is better and lest costly than cure.  As stated in an earlier post, they have started to risk stratify and target expenditure where it is needed most.
  • The NHS have so far failed to show the positive impact of the programme. Although I’ve seen many individuals say how grateful they are for the check as it found something major early on when treatable, the NHS would be in a much better position if they could report on the outcomes of all checks. They may do this already, but I have yet to see it.
  • The people with responsibility for rolling out the programme are GPs – Professor Gerada is chair of their trade association. Running the Health Checks takes up GPs time and there is undoubtedly follow up, which…takes up more time…
  • Were GPs involved in the original planning? If not, this was clearly a mistake.

As is understandable in such big policy decisions there will be those for and those against.  I’m intuitively for the NHS Health Check Programme and those individuals whose lives have been saved or extended by it are unlikely to be against. I just wish that there had been much greater consensus from the medical community from the outset and that we had greater clarification on the positive outcomes.  I hope this comes in due course.