Exclusive GP practices are being told they will no longer be paid to run the NHS Health Checks scheme from April, as local councillors try to balance the books under the Government’s swinging cuts to public health services.
GPs in one area have been told their contracts to deliver the NHS Health Checks will be terminated at the end of March as a result of cutbacks to the public health budget.
York City Council said it would continue to offer ‘some elements’ of the Health Checks programme, which forms a key plank of the Government’s drive to prevent ill health and curb spiralling NHS costs that result from lifestyle issues such as poor diet, obesity and smoking.
But local GP leaders said the move would be a ‘disaster’ both for the programme and for practices that had invested time and effort to boost uptake.
Pulse already revealed that York City was one of a number of councils that were cutting smoking cessations services.
In a letter to practices seen by Pulse, public health officials in York City Council said ‘the intention is to provide some elements of stop smoking provision and NHS Health Checks through the establishment of an Integrated Wellness Service’ and that ‘because of financial constraints, this will be a targeted service aimed specifically at tackling health inequalities in our deprived and marginalised communities’.
But Dr John Crompton, chair of North Yorkshire LMC, told Pulse the move would be ‘a disaster’ for practices that had invested extra resources in boosting uptake of the NHS Health Checks – and that it would potentially increase health inequalities in the region as the scheme is set to continue across the rest of North Yorkshire.
Dr Crompton said: ‘The NHS Health Checks is a national programme about health promotion and prevention and to suddenly stop offering those locally in practices would be a disaster.’
He added: ‘Practices have invested a lot of time and effort in this – you invest in staff, you have systems – and as well as doing the invites we have been doing [the checks] opportunistically to really get best coverage – and we’ve found locally we’re picking up a lot of early diabetes up and managing it – and now if that’s lost potentially that population in York is going to have worse outcomes if we’re not able to do that proactive work.’
Dr Crompton said the council had informed practices they may recommission the Health Checks ‘in some kind of watered down form, offering them in sports centres and things like that’.
However, he said ‘they won’t get the take up and those they do pick up will be passed to GP practices to do all the work anyway, so it will just mean that primary care will be left to sort it out under GMS’.
The Council said in a statement: ‘York City Council inherited a number of contracts from the former North Yorkshire and York Primary Care Trust (PCT) when the responsibility for public health transferred to local government in April 2013, including NHS Health Check.
‘It was always the intention to review these services. The council has been consulting on the development of a new integrated wellbeing service for the city’s residents. It is expected NHS Health Check, which is a mandated service, will continue to be available as part of the new wellbeing service which is planned to launch in spring 2016.’
Jamie Waterall, Public Health England’s national lead for the NHS Health Check programme, said: ’The reduced public health funding to local authorities is challenging, but Public Health England remains committed to supporting local teams in delivering the NHS Health Check within these efficiencies.
’Local authorities have a legal requirement to ensure that 100% of their eligible population are invited every five years and most areas are on track to achieve this.’