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NHS managers missing Health Checks targets

Exclusive: NHS managers are missing their targets for the delivery of the Department of Health's flagship NHS Health Checks programme and have been forced to bring in a range of emergency ‘remedial' measures such as boosting GP payments and directly employing staff for practices.

Performance reports from PCTs and clinical commissioning groups show many are scrambling to reach patients for the vascular screening programme.

The NHS is due to fully roll out the screening programme next year, with a national target to offer a health check to 20% of eligible patients annually in 2012/13, and

Department of Health figures for the first three quarters of 2011/12 indicate that overall 18% of eligible patients were approached in England.

But a Pulse investigation reveals in some areas very few patients have yet been offered the test, with some trusts struggling to approach even 2% of those eligible.

An Outer North East London cluster report from earlier this month reveals NHS Redbridgeand NHS Waltham Forestwere both ‘not expected' to meet their targets of over 20% in 2011/12, with around 2% of checks offered after ‘a lack of GP engagement'.

NHS Cambridgeshire and NHS Peterborough have brought in a ‘remedial action plan' to tackle underperforming practices, and NHS Trafford said it had approved the recruitment of an additional healthcare assistant for a fixed term of three months to work across primary care ‘to improve volume of checks'.

NHS Bury admitted it had ‘failed' its ‘informal' target of offering 7.6% of eligible patients a check in 2011/12, and said it would be considering extra staff and incentives for GP practices in order to boost the number of checks offered next year.

Dr John Ashcroft, a GP in Ilkeston, Derbyshire and clinical lead for Erewash CCG said PCTs should resource GPs adequately.

‘They aren't doing it, they haven't put money into primary care to do it and having identified patients at high risk there are no proper programmes to follow those patients up,' he said.

‘They have a laissez faire attitude to it and it is a bit like we used to treat hypertension in the 1970s.'

Dr George Kassianos, a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, and a fellow of the European Society of Cardiology, said: 'The NHS Health Checks were introduced here and there in an ad hoc way. It should have been a National Scheme, implemented simultaneously all over the UK, with a financial structure that applied to everybody.

'Instead, we saw a multispeed implementation with financial arrangements set locally. The end result was apathy in many areas and lack of enthusiasm in others, while in some others the scheme was adapted successfully.

A DH spokesperson said health checks would be a ‘key performance measure for 2012/13': ‘PCTs have made good progress, but we can do more.'