This site is intended for health professionals only

Flagship health checks scheme ‘not tested’

By Lilian Anekwe

A senior official at the Department of Health has admitted for the first time that its flagship vascular screening programme was rushed forward because of a 'political imperative', undermining plans to ramp up the preventative scheme.

The NHS Health Check programme was announced with great fanfare in 2009 by the then prime minister Gordon Brown, but the deputy head of the vascular programme at the Department of health has said it was approved without testing that it would work.

The admission undermines plans revealed by heart tsar Professor Roger Boyle last month to turn the scheme into a 'major industry' and invite private and other providers to ramp up participation in the programme.

Speaking at a meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine in London last week, Heather White, deputy head of the vascular branch at the Department of Health, admitted that the programme had been rolled out sooner than anticipated because there was a political pressure for a preventative programme.

When asked by cardiologist Dr David Wald how such a costly programme had been approved without proof that it worked, she explained that the programme was rolled out based on a 'convincing model' and the results of smaller cardiovascular schemes running across the country.

She said: 'We maybe should've tested and had pilots, but the Government was clear that they believed the information they had and were happy with the evidence. Preventative programmes were high up on the political agenda. There was a political imperative for a preventative programme.'

She also defended the decision not to have the model peer reviewed. She said: 'The model was consulted on; we wrote to academics and asked them to have a look at it too. If everything had been peer reviewed and we'd done randomised testing it would've stopped it being rolled out for years.'

Pulse revealed earlier this year that uptake for the NHS Health Check programme has been lower than expected, with around 38% of offers to screen being accepted.

Dr Andrew Mimnagh a GP in Liverpool and chair of Sefton LMC said: 'The health checks, although there is a scientific benefit and a good rationale for prospective primary care prevention, this was a classical sound bite of a policy.'

'The actual cardiovascular screening started as a specific proposal for early detection and intervention for abdominal aortic aneurysms but morphed through the political climate into "we've got to show some good",' he added.

No spokesperson from the Department of Health was available to comment on this story.

Flagship health checks scheme 'not tested'