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Government to end 'one-size-fits-all' NHS Health Checks

Health secretary Matt Hancock has announced an overhaul of NHS Health Checks in a bid to put an end to ‘one-size-fits-all’ check-ups.

At the launch of a review into NHS Health Checks, which Nursing in Practice reported in July, Mr Hancock said he hoped to create a more tailored check-up in order to better prevent and predict diseases.

NHS Health Checks are a standardised check-up currently offered to everyone between the ages of 40 and 74, and commissioned by the local council.

Under new plans, the checks will be more tailored depending on factors such as age, location and their DNA. For example, drinking advice might be targeted towards 40-49-year-olds, and blood pressure advice to those between 70-74-years-old.

Those at low risk of cardiovascular disease may be offered less frequent, online check-ups.

The review will also look at a specific check-up for those approaching retirement age and ways to maximise uptake.

Of the 14 million people offered an NHS Health Check over the past five years, 7 million have undertaken one. The Department of Health and Social Care claims that out of these, 500 lives have been saved each year.

Mr Hancock said: ‘Personalised, preventative healthcare is a mission critical to the future-fit healthcare service we want to build. We must harness the latest technology and techniques to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach of the past.

‘The review we are announcing today will be an important step towards achieving that, helping us to find data-led, evidenced based ways to support people to spot, manage and prevent risks to their health through targeted intervention.’

Duncan Selbie, Public Health England chief executive, said: ‘Predictive prevention becomes ever more possible through genomics and the application of cutting-edge behavioural science.

‘NHS Health Checks have been phenomenally successful and this review is a great opportunity to make the next generation the most effective in the world.’

Wendy Preston, Head of Nursing Practice at the Royal College of Nursing maintained that the initial health check programme was 'ineffective and inefficient'.

'When the personalised health check programme was unveiled some years ago, it seemed as if it would be a step forward in preventing ill health. Sadly, a mixture of poor planning, underfunding and understaffing meant what we got was ineffective and inefficient. Prevention must not be viewed as an optional extra - we need a properly funded service, one that is delivered  by a fully staffed, experienced nursing workforce with adequate resources. It is vital that is treated as a part of the bigger public health picture,' she said.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, welcomed a 'more targeted, evidence-based approach' to health checks but stressed that the methods used to determine who should be invited should be 'properly thought through and based on rigorous evidence'. 

She continued: 'The College has already expressed its concerns around the unintended consequences of widespread whole genome DNA testing to determine whether a patient has a genetic disposition to certain conditions. While more targeted predictive genetic testing is an important step forward, there are many issues to be explored in this review.

'We need to consider, for example, the increased workload for GPs and healthcare professionals across the NHS as patients want to discuss their genetic results; the huge ethical and financial implications of suddenly knowing what health conditions you may be more susceptible to; and patients being worried about any health concerns that are identified but of dubious personal impact, or where nothing can be done to improve the prognosis.

'It is essential that any new approach to health checks is subject to rigorous evaluation to ensure its safety, accuracy, and benefit for patients’ health. We also need to ensure that for digital or online services being promised, GPs and their teams have the technological resources and training to manage these and prevent additional strain on a profession already facing such intense resource and workforce pressures.'

The proposals follow plans by DHSC to make screening as a whole more 'tailored'. 

It comes as GPs warned genomic testing in five million patients could worsen GP workforce problems.