The Government’s flagship NHS Health Checks scheme should be independently reviewed as is not evidence-based, an influential group of MPs has ruled.
Announcing its third report on national health screening, the Commons science and technology committee said that the policy could be wasting valuable NHS resources at a time it ‘can ill-afford to do so’.
The MPs said the UK National Screening Committee (NSC) should have reviewed the evidence base for the programme before it was implemented – and should now go back and look at it again ‘to ascertain its value’.
The Committee stated: ‘It is the UK NSC’s responsibility to ensure that screening programmes are only offered where there is robust, high-quality evidence that they will do more good than harm, and at a reasonable cost. MPs agree that all screening programmes should be grounded in robust evidence and the evidential barrier to entry should remain high.
‘However, if the UK NSC is to remain an authoritative source of advice, it must become more transparent in the way it makes decisions and evaluates the evidence. The NHS Health Check programme – which aims to prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease – was introduced without a rigorous evidence base and was not reviewed by the UK NSC. The MPs are concerned that the Health Check programme is wasting resources at time when the NHS can ill-afford to do so and recommend that the UK NSC scrutinise the programme, retrospectively, to ascertain its value.’
Public Health England, which took over responsibility for the NHS Health Checks programme in April last year, has defended the scheme against criticisms over the evidence base, arguing it is a work in progress and being evaluated rigorously as it is rolled out.
The GPC said it supported a proper independent review of the NHS Health Checks – as well as better communication with patients around other screening programmes, also recommended by the MPs.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘Many GPs will share the science and technology committee’s concerns about health screening.
‘As the BMA has repeatedly warned, it is vitally important that people being invited for screening fully understand the pros and cons of the procedure. Patients must also be aware that there is a risk that false positive results could lead to unnecessary and potentially harmful further investigations.
‘The BMA would welcome a full review of the benefits of the current NHS Health Check programme as many GPs have doubts as to its benefit and cost effectiveness. More also needs to be done to protect patients from companies promoting inappropriate health screening when in fact the evidence of benefit is often lacking.’