GPs should be asked to carry out as many health checks of patients with severe mental illness as is feasible, including during vaccination appointments, NHS England has said.
In a letter sent on Wednesday last week (5 January), NHS England’s national director for mental health Claire Murdoch called on primary care to deliver health checks to the most vulnerable patients.
The letter said that health inequalities will worsen due to the pandemic if ‘decisive and proactive action’ is not taken.
Physical health checks remain a ‘high priority’ as well as Covid vaccinations, ‘even as we continue to deal with a Level 4 National Incident’, the letter stressed.
And it went on to say primary care should ‘work with commissioners on a plan to prioritise checks based on clinical risk, accounting for inequalities’.
Primary care should deliver ‘as many of the checks’ as is feasible, it added.
The letter suggested a ‘Making Every Contact Count’ approach, offering flu vaccinations and using Covid vaccination appointments to carry out ‘as much of the health check as feasible’.
It said that demands on the system need ‘more flexible and joint system working’ in order to share the health checks and subsequent follow-ups, and asked that system partners ‘work together to support delivery of the physical health checks over the remainder of this financial year’.
Systems must use ‘current underspends to fund additional capacity’, and where this is not available, central additional funding must be drawn down from NHS England and Improvement regional finance leads.
Key targets set out to ICSs by NHS England
- Increasing secondary care capacity with local primary and secondary care partnerships for learning disability.
- Increasing capacity within mental health trusts to deliver physical health checks for the SMI patients that they have had contact with (eg via bank shifts).
- Supplementing the existing directly enhanced service (DES) for learning disability.
- Supplementing existing primary care capacity to deliver checks (eg via local enhanced schemes).
- Building on existing outreach schemes with the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector to ensure patients have the support they need to attend their physical health check.
- Providing funding to community pharmacy/community health services to deliver checks.
Source: NHS England
NHS England had first suggested in June last year that patients dropping in for flu and top-up Covid vaccinations during autumn should be offered a health check at the same time.
At the time, NHS England told Pulse that the final details of the health check programme were still being worked on, but said it will be up to local health providers to decide which particular checks they provide and to which groups.
The NHS Health Check programme, which targets everyone over 40, was paused in some areas during the pandemic, with promises of income protection for GP practices.
And GPs have already achieved a significant amount of annual health checks for people with a learning disability.