Exclusive GPs will be ‘at the centre’ of a major drive to expand the reach of NHS Health Checks by Public Health England, with plans to boost the take-up by 50%, says its new head of health and wellbeing.
In an exclusive interview with Pulse, Professor Kevin Fenton conceded that current uptake was low, with only 50%, or one in every two people invited, coming forward to have their health check and that the Government has ‘a way to go’ to achieve its aim of between 70 and 75%.
The body has a target to expand the flagship programme to treat patients at risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes across the whole of England by 2017.
Professor Fenton said PHE was committed to deploying the programme in a more systematic way and working with GPs and other providers to find more ‘innovative’ ways to improve uptake.
He said: ‘We’re looking at offering health checks to about 15 million people in five years, on average that’s about three million [more] people per year. We’re looking at ensuring we get at least a 70 to 75% acceptance rate for the programme, so we still have a way to go to getting the acceptance rate up.’
He added that the body was looking at ‘tweaking’ invitation letters, sending follow-up reminders and looking at local branding to boost uptake of the checks.
He explained: ‘We’re now poised to begin rolling out Health Checks across the country in a far more systematic way than it has been before, in part because the management and leadership of the programme locally has now shifted to local authorities.
‘This provides an amazing opportunity for local leadership on the programme and for local engagement with a range of providers, but all the time ensuring that GPs are at the centre of both the invite to screens but also the ongoing management of people who are identified with particular risks.
‘What we’re also seeing as local authorities take up leadership of the programme is that they’re beginning to identify other key partners in the primary care family who can also be a part of health checks. This may involve community pharmacies, particular voluntary or community sector providers who can also be involved in the risk assessment and management activities associated with the community.’
The NHS Health Checks programme – which aims to assess all people aged 40–74 years for cardiovascular risk – has been gradually introduced in specific areas over the past four years. Public Health England recently made it a key priority to expand the programme and reach an estimated 15 million eligible patients.
A number of studies have cast doubt on its potential effectiveness, however, with one recent study showing uptake of only 40%, and others, notably a major Cochrane review, questioning whether it will have any long-term benefit for the population. Although a new study out this week, in PLoS One, suggests such health check programmes are likely to be cost-effective, this is based on simulated outcomes over 30 years of follow-up.