The programme NHS Health Checks for patients between the ages of 40 and 74 has “fallen well short” of international targets for cardiovascular risk assessment programmes with fewer than a quarter of eligible patients participating, according to a new study.
The research by a team from Imperial College, London, found that just 21% of patients took up the NHS Health Checks between 2009 and 2013.
The scheme costs an estimated £165 million a year and is the world’s largest cardiovascular risk programme.
GPs are paid to deliver the checks, which look at patients’ cardiovascular risk score based on blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol.
However, the study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal said the outcome could be due to poor initial planning and inadequate engagement with healthcare professionals and the public about potential benefits.
The research was commissioned and funded by the Department of Health’s policy research programme.
It looked at 138,788 eligible patients registered at 462 practices in England and found that NHS Health Checks delivered “clinically modest” impacts.
Researchers found that the programme cut the 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease by 0.21% – or the equivalent of preventing one stroke or heart attack each year for every 4,762 participating patient.
Statins were prescribed for 39% of Health Check attendees.
Researchers said a third of non-attendees did not get an invitation to a check and some people who did not go said they did not have enough information about the programme. Others said there were inflexible appointments, which were a barrier to their attendance.
Women were more likely to take up the invitation and 71% of patients were white.
The study found that there were significantly more diagnoses of vascular diseases among attendees, and the largest increases were for hypertension and diabetes 2.
Lead author Kiara Chang, from the School of Public Medicine at Imperial College said: “Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death across the world and so we urgently need more effective initiatives to tackle the condition. However, these findings suggest the NHS Health Check scheme offers very modest benefits.”