The Government will digitise the NHS Health Check, which it said would ‘identify and prevent more cases of cardiovascular disease’.
The news, confirmed in today’s Spring Budget, follows a pilot launched in Cornwall at the end of last year.
Instead of a face-to-face visit, the pilot offers patients a digital check involving an online questionnaire, a kit to take a blood sample at home and a blood pressure check at the pharmacy or in the GP waiting room.
Upon the pilot launch, RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne said the model for the screening programme was ‘worth exploring’ but called for a comprehensive evaluation before it was rolled out more widely.
But today’s Spring Budget said: ‘The Government will digitise the NHS Health Check in England to identify cardiovascular conditions earlier, resulting in improved health outcomes.’
It linked the policy to workforce inactivity, stating that 2.5 million people are inactive due to long-term sickness – 410,000 more people than before the pandemic.
Professor Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, said: ‘It’s an interesting approach to implementing the NHS Health Check Programme and many people may find this easier to complete and more convenient than attending a clinic for the check.
‘However, there is a risk that the approach will be less popular with people with lower levels of IT skills and health literacy. Hence, it may exacerbate health inequalities if it not carefully implemented to prevent this happening.
‘Some patients will continue to prefer a face to face appointment for their NHS Health Check and may not like the design of the new format.’
Spring Budget policies would ‘support improved population health outcomes and increase the employment rate and hours worked among those with a health condition or disability’, the Government claimed.
As part of the same goal, community MSK hubs will be ‘scaled up’ in England ‘so more people can access treatment’. People with musculoskeletal disabilities will also be provided with ‘free access to digital support tools hosted on the NHS website and app’.
The Government will also ‘modernise and digitise mental health services in England, providing wellness and clinical grade apps free at the point of use, pilot cutting-edge digital therapies, and digitise the NHS Talking Therapies programme’, the budget said.
Last year, University of Oxford researchers called for a review of the NHS Health Check after finding wide variation in how the service is offered a ‘postcode’ lottery in the advice and support patients receive afterwards.
The Government’s ‘levelling up’ White Paper had said it would be looking into the ‘future’ of the NHS Health Check scheme in February last year.
Also as part of Spring Budget plans, the Government announced it would abolish the pensions Lifetime Allowance in a bid to retain GPs and other doctors.