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Online life checks set to swamp GPs

A controversial system of online health checks will be used to invite patients into general practice for cardiovascular screening from the autumn, Pulse can reveal.

The NHS Choices website, launched this week, calculates the top five conditions each patient is most likely to be hospitalised with – based on their age, sex and geographic location.

GPs have warned that the site will pander to the worried well and could swamp practices with workload from patients alarmed over their profile of predicted illnesses.

From October, the website will also identify people who are in the age group that the National Screening Committee recommends should be screened for cardiovascular disease, and encourage them to make an appointment with their GP for screening. The revelation is likely to intensify concerns over the screening plans, which Pulse last week revealed could make almost half of patients over 40 eligible for statins.

Sir Muir Gray, until recently director of the National Screening Committee, helped develop the website and said it would 'provide important health information to an intelligent public who need advice that GPs often don't have the time to give to them'.

He added: 'There will be a different aspect of the website up in October. When the policy decision is made about which age groups to screen, people completing a health check who are in that group and appropriate for screening will be told to see their GP.'

Screening experts expressed concern the website offered 'too few parameters' and would raise patient anxiety.

Dr Azhar Farooqi, a GP in Leicester who has been involved in evaluating diabetes screening pilots, said: 'I do have some problems with blanket, Daily Mail-type questionnaires that give very simple answers. 'It would be much better if they had put in more parameters or a more specific scenario, otherwise this sort of thing is next to useless.'

Professor Kamlesh Khunti, professor of general practice at the University of Leicester, added: 'This sort of thing really ought to have been trialled and it may lead to the worried well going to see their GPs.'

Pulse takes the test
Intrepid Pulse reporter Lilian Anekwe took a health check on the NHS Choices website. The top five conditions the tool predicted Lilian, aged 25 and a resident of north London, would be hospitalised for were:
•Gall bladder disease (1 in 64 chance)
•Cervical cancer (1 in 121 chance)
•Hysteroscopy (1 in 153 chance)
•Varicose veins (1 in 197 chance)
•Appendicitis (1 in 208 chance)

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