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NHS Health Check scheme prevents thousands of deaths

by Alice Harrold
20 December 2016

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A “controversial” NHS health check programme has prevented thousands of heart attacks, strokes, and deaths in its first five years, a new study has revealed.

The NHS Health Check programme in England prevented between 4,600 and 8,400 heart attacks, strokes, or deaths from these causes between 2009 and 2014, it was estimated in the independent review led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

The primary care programme led to an increase in diagnoses of 30% for diabetes, 50% for hypertension and 80% for chronic kidney disease, and 40% more statins were prescribed.

Since the programme began, every adult in the country aged 40 to 74-years-old has been offered a free health check. The scheme offers professional advice on lifestyle changes and treatments, including statins, to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.

The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, looked at the first five years of the programme in three London areas (City & Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham).

It was discovered that 85,122 people attended a GP health check in five years. Of eligible people, 85% were seen in the most recent year, 2014, rising from 36% in the first year, 2009. Coverage for the whole of England was 50% in 2014, which the authors said indicates that better coverage can be achieved.

The introduction of this scheme was controversial, according to the authors, because statins received adverse publicity and the programme’s effectiveness was contested. This was largely based on a review of 16 trials of health checks, they said, of which 12 were conducted before 1994 when neither statins nor modern antihypertensive drugs were in use.

Study lead Dr John Robson from QMUL said: “Those who attended NHS Health Checks were substantially more likely to be found with a diagnosis of a new disease, including hypertension, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.

“If you compare attendance levels with other programmes, such as the bowel screening programme, the coverage here is much better, so one would hope that would translate into earlier opportunities for greater protection for those people.

“However, there is still room for improvement for NHS Health Checks, especially in terms of ensuring even better treatments for those at higher risk,” Dr Robson said.