Take-up of the Government’s flagship NHS Health Checks programme fell last year, with less than half of the patients invited attending their appointment, new figures show.
The national figures for 2012/2013 show overall uptake – the proportion of people invited who received the check – was 49%, having fallen back from 51% the previous year.
More people were offered the check - that aims to pick up patients aged 40 to 74 year olds at high risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes- with 16.5% of the 15 million people eligible invited, compared with 14.0% in 2011/2012.
But due to the low uptake, overall coverage – the proportion of eligible people that received the health check – went up only very slightly from 7% to 8%, way below the 20% per year target set by the Department of Health.
The figures show that Public Health England faces an enormous task to get the programme back on track, and hit its target of reaching 15 million eligible people by 2018/2019, equating to around three million new people each year.
Public Health England said it was ‘encouraging’ that uptake levels were not more badly affected during the transition to CCGs and local authorities. But other experts questioned whether the investment needed to run the programme was a good use of NHS money.
The head of health and wellbeing at the new body recently told Pulse that 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%.
A study analysing data from the NHS Health Checks scheme in 2011/2012, published this month in the Journal of Public Health, concluded that coverage was too low currently to make the programme pay for itself.
The researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Oxford concluded: ‘Policy-makers need to decide whether any additional resource might be better invested in more cost-effective population-wide strategies, such as accelerating reductions in salt consumption and elimination of trans fats.’
One of the authors Dr Michael Soljak, clinical research fellow at Imperial College London, said the latest results were a ‘big concern’.
He said: ‘Coverage is well below what was planned and indicates the programme will not meet targets of screening the eligible population over a five-year period.
He added: ‘National targets are no longer being performance managed as rigorously as they were by the previous Government. This delivered results, although there were also unwanted side effects. Good organisation is critical, along with good performance management by local authorities, CCGs and local area teams.’
Dr Azhar Farooqi, chair of Leicester City CCG and a GP in the city, told Pulse that uptake in Leicester was ‘abysmal’ when the programme was first introduced there, so he and fellow commissioners decided to arrange a LES to enable GPs to carry out screens more flexibly, with impressive results – Leicester had the highest coverage of any PCT in 2012/2013 with 100% uptake.
He said: ‘I think the national programme really isn’t fit for purpose and is unlikely to succeed, and CCGs and local community GPs ought to organise their own screens that are sensitive to their local needs and the way their practices operate.’
A PHE spokesperson admitted the implementation so far by PCTs had been ‘patchy’ and that they were committed to supporting local authorities to turn the scheme around.
He said: ‘Overall, the programme is still in its early stages and progress is in line with that seen in the roll out of other similar programmes. Given the scale of change within health services, the 2.7 million offers made, 1.26 million taken up last year provides a solid base for the future.’