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NHS Health Checks ‘not well evidenced’

30 October 2014

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The NHS Health Check programme could be a “waste of resources” as it was not rigorously checked before being brought in, a government committee has claimed. 

The UK National Screening Committee (NSC) is responsible for ensuring that programmes are only offered when there is high-quality evidence that they will do more good than harm, at a reasonable cost. 

However, NHS Health Check was brought in “without a rigorous evidence base” and was not reviewed by the NSC, the Science and Technology Committee found. 

MPs have recommended that the UK NSC scrutinise the programme, retrospectively, to work out whether it is valuable. 

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee 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.”

The committee also warned that  risks and benefits of taking part in health screening programmes are not being communicated effectively.

A Science and Technology Committee report stated that providing high-quality information to potential screening participants should be well-resourced, not “an afterthought undertaken on an ad-hoc basis”. 

Chair of the Committee, Andrew Miller MP, said: “Like any medical intervention, screening carries both benefits and risks, whether that is for breast cancer, for aneurisms or hypothyroidism in newborns. However, health screening is seen in such a positive light by the public that it can be challenging to convey the negative side of the equation.

“While screening can increase the likelihood of curing, preventing or delaying the progression of disease for some patients, for others it may lead to false results, misdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment.  More needs to be done to ensure that both the benefits and risks are clearly, and even-handedly, communicated so that people can make an informed choice about whether screening is right for them.”