Questions raised over value of free health checks for all

A SCHEME to offer free health checks to the over-40s will be rolled out across the East Riding despite questions being raised over its benefits nationally.
Andy Kingdom, Deputy Director of Public HealthAndy Kingdom, Deputy Director of Public Health
Andy Kingdom, Deputy Director of Public Health

After languishing at the bottom of the now-defunct primary care trusts in Yorkshire to offer the checks, the take-up in the East Riding has soared to one of the highest in the country.

NHS Health Checks were introduced five years ago by the Department of Health and aim to detect people aged over 40 with Type 2 diabetes and others at high risk of developing the disease, which can lead to complications including kidney failure and stroke.

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But there has been controversy recently after the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) said the Government was promoting the scheme “against good evidence”. It followed a review which showed the health checks did not bring “any beneficial effects and were likely to lead to unnecessary diagnoses and treatments”.

From April, when East Riding Council took on the responsibility for public health, to June, checks were offered to 3,216 people in the East Riding. Of these, 2,779 people took up the offer – nearly twice that in the whole of the previous year.

The council has signalled its
ambition to expand its pilot, which includes GP surgeries and leisure centres, to a larger comprehensive service across the East Riding.

But the RCGP’s chairwoman, Dr Clare Gerada, said that the review showed mass screening would not reduce the death rate from diabetes, heart and kidney disease and scarce resources should be targeted on public health campaigns which were known to work.

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The deputy director of public health, Andy Kingdom, said the pilot targeted areas with the highest rates of avoidable chronic illness and premature death. A single comprehensive programme was being evaluated nationally by Public Health England, which had set up an expert panel to oversee it.

He said: “Local analysis of trends in health and illness suggest that urgent action is required to reduce the growing burden of behavioural and physiological risk factors leading to disability, inequalities and premature death within the East Riding – the NHS Health Check provides us with an opportunity to make real inroads to changing this position.”