The number of NHS health checks delivered face-to-face in England have more than doubled in a year, exceeding even pre-pandemic records.
Data released by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) this month showed that 2.9 million checks were offered and 1.1 million were delivered in the year 2022/23, more than twice the number in the previous 12-month period.
NHS health checks, the majority of which are provided in GP surgeries or local pharmacies, provide adults in England aged 40-70 with a free check-up of their overall health and can detect early signs of strokes, diabetes, and kidney or heart disease.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) estimates that these checks may have prevented more than 400 heart attacks and strokes, as well as identifying 220,00 people who would benefit from statin treatment.
In the final quarter of 2022/23, the number of health checks offered was the highest it has been since 2014/15. Health checks delivered also hit the highest level since 2015/16.
In the last quarter of the year, 849,650 health checks were offered to patients in England, equivalent to 5.3% of the eligible population, and a further 371,227, or 2.3% of the population, received checks.
Health secretary Steve Barclay said that health checks were ‘vitally important in preventing illnesses, easing pressure on the NHS and cutting waiting times’.
The number of health checks offered and delivered to the public during the pandemic dipped significantly, however the DHSC claim that there were 10.2 million checks offered and 4.3 million carried out between April 2018 and March 2023, despite disruption caused by the pandemic.
Yet a large proportion of the 10.2 million checks offered occurred outside of the disruption caused by the pandemic.
While there was only limited disruption during 2019/2020, in quarter one of 2020/21 the number of checks offered fell from 625,277 to only 31,949.
Likewise, checks delivered fell significantly between 2019/20 and 2021-21. Declining from 272,045 to only 9,682 with rates not returning to around pre-pandemic levels until the 2022/23.
The release of this data comes shortly after the announcement of a new digital NHS health check, operating alongside the existing face-to-face service from spring 2024.
The DHSC estimates that the digital service will deliver an additional one million checks over the coming four years.
Each new digital check, the DHSC claimed, could save up to 20 minutes of staff time, freeing up potentially thousands of appointments in general practice.
Patients will be able to access the check via a mobile phone, tablet, or computer. They will complete an online questionnaire, enter height, weight, and blood pressure measurements, and the results of a blood test.
The results will be available online and users will be directed to personalised advice to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke, as well as advice on stopping smoking and on weight management support, where appropriate.
Referrals to GPs will only be made if further tests and treatment are needed, and the government claimed this will help to reduce demand on GP services.