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NHS Health Check may become digital to lift pressure on general practice

NHS Health Check may become digital to lift pressure on general practice

The Government is piloting a digital version of the NHS Health Check, as a way of taking pressure off GP services and their staff.

Instead of a face-to-face visit, the Cornwall-based pilot offers patients a digital check involving an online questionnaire, a kit to take a blood sample at home and a blood pressure check at the pharmacy or in the GP waiting room.

The trial is part of plans to digitise health checks for 40-to-74-year olds, the Government said, which would free up time for clinicians and nurses.

It builds on approaches to healthcare that developed during Covid when people got used to doing tests at home and getting their results online.

More than 2,000 people across three GP surgeries will be invited to take part in the study with anyone with results suggesting an underlying health condition to be followed up by the practice.

Minister for public health Neil O’Brien said the trial would help understand what a new digital NHS Health Check could look like in the years to come.

‘The health check is crucial in preventing and identifying potentially life-threatening conditions, and this digital version will do just that while making patients’ lives easier and reducing pressure on frontline services.’

Dr Andy Sant, managing director of NHS Cornwall’s North and East Integrated Care Area, said: ‘Much has been achieved in our county around digital inclusion, and the preventative value of health checks is already proven.

‘So, we are delighted that patients in Cornwall are being given the first opportunity to access a digital version through this innovative trial. Amid such sustained pressure upon general practice, this is a welcome and logical progression.’

RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne said health checks had an important role in prevention and early diagnosis, but they must be based on evidence that they improve health outcomes for our patients.

‘Offering patients the opportunity to carry out health checks, or some aspects of health checks, for themselves at home has merit – some sexual health services already offer users at-home self-testing options, for example, and some patients already have equipment at home such as blood pressure monitors -– so is worth exploring.’

But she added: ‘We expect to see a robust evaluation of this initiative, before further decisions to roll it out more widely are made.

‘Specifically, this needs to look at how digital health checks would link up with GP patient records, and how “red flag” symptoms or recommendations for lifestyle change picked up by the health checks are managed.

‘It also needs to address concerns around the potential for causing unnecessary worry for patients who may not know how to interpret their findings, practice staffing implications regarding the running, interpretation and explanation of tests, and additions to GP workload.’

Researchers at the University of Oxford recently called for a review of NHS health checks after wide variation in how the service is offered and what happens to patients afterwards.

The Government’s ‘levelling up’ White Paper said it would be looking into the ‘future’ of the NHS Health Check scheme in February this year.

A version of this article first appeared in our sister publication Pulse.

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