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Government ‘wasting £140m a year on NHS Health Checks’

The Government’s flagship cardiovascular disease prevention programme is ineffective and wasting £450m a year in ‘scarce resources’, a group of leading academics has claimed.

The team, from the London School of Economics (LSE), said the approach may ‘at best’ prevent around 1,000 deaths a year, at a cost of up to £450,000 per death avoided.

The researchers, led by Professor Walter Holland, emeritus professor of public health medicine and visiting professor at LSE, said forcing NHS staff to ‘commit time and scarce resources to activities of debatable effectiveness’ was ‘sapping morale’, particularly given ‘substantial opportunity costs of failing to invest those scare resources in alternative, more effective interventions’.

They estimate costs will ‘spiral’ even further now that NICE has ‘roughly doubled’ the number of people eligible for preventative treatment with statins under the scheme, by lowering the primary prevention threshold to a 10-year risk of 10% or higher.

The damning report, published in a recent issue of the Journal of Public Health, goes on to assert that many Department of Health, Public Health England and NHS England staff ‘privately agree’ that the programme is costly and ineffective – and calls for an independent health body to be set up to give ministers ‘objective, scientific advice on public health’.

In a response published in the same issue of the journal, PHE advisors on the NHS Health Check programme insisted modelling had shown the programme ‘could be cost-effective compared with other NHS activities’ and that they are committed to using ‘emerging evidence of cost-effectiveness to demonstrate the economic value of the programme relative to other interventions the NHS and local government may wish to make’.

In a statement, Jamie Waterall, National lead for the NHS Health Check programme at Public Health England, commented: ‘Two thirds of deaths under 75 are preventable, such as strokes and heart attacks, and the NHS Health Check aims to help people take action to prevent these diseases in a systematic and cost-effective way.’

He added: ‘Each component of the Health Check is evidenced and aligned with NICE guidelines.’

J Pub Health 2015; 37 (2): 187-192


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