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Take up of health checks are “not strong, to put it mildly”

A leader in NHS England has confirmed that take-up of health checks were weak, in light of the first study on the scheme, published yesterday.

“I'm sure all of you will know that the health checks are available to the vast majority of people,” Peter Walsh, deputy director of the Strategy Group at NHS England told the audience at a King's Fund event in London.

“Takeup of that has not been particularly strong, to put it mildly,” he added.

This comes after a four-year study (from 2009-2013) looking at 655 general practices across England concluded that “NHS Health Check coverage was lower than expected but showed year-on-year improvement”.

However, nearly 8,000 new cases of hypertension were identified at the health check or in the following 12 months (one case per 27 NHS Health Checks). Moreover, nearly 2,000 new cases of diabetes and 800 new cases of Chronic Kidney Disease were found.

At the NHS Health Check the patients vascular health is tested, including blood pressure, cholesterol, and BMI, and it's aimed as adults aged 40-74 as a "midlife MOT". 

The check is usually done in GP surgeries and local pharmacies, but may be offered by mobile units to passers-by, at leisure centres or in similar organisations. 

The research, published in BMJ Open, showed that attendance was relatively higher among older people (aged 60-74), of whom 20% of those eligible attended and 9.0% at age 40-59 years.

NHS England is now trying “to test to see whether making it available in the workplace makes it easier for [NHS staff] to have their health check,” Walsh added, and whether this “makes it easier for them to access the support and help they might need as a result of that health check.”

This part of a wider scheme to improve NHS staff wellbeing, announced by Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, in September, in hope that it would cut the £2.4 billion annual cost of sickness among the 1.3 million NHS staff who care for patients.

NHS England thinks it is “really important” to make the health check available in NHS workplaces, Walsh said.