A national screening programme has prevented 2,500 cardiovascular events over the last five years in England, according to the first evaluation of the initiative.
The NHS Health Check programme has also helped diagnose conditions commonly linked to cardiovascular disease, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease, concluded the evaluation report published in the journal BMJ Open.
“Our study demonstrates a modest but successful start”
In addition, it found people from the most deprived areas and black and minority ethnic groups were more likely to attend an NHS Health Check – representing a positive step towards tackling health inequalities.
However, while the impact has largely been positive, less than half of the total patients invited currently attend a screening appointment.
The programme, overseen by Public Health England, is the first in the world to offer a free check to every adult aged 40-74 years.
It provides a personal review of the behavioural factors and offers professional advice on lifestyle change and treatment. It also identifies any new or undiagnosed serious conditions.
The programme evaluation, led by Queen Mary University of London, was based on data from 655 GP practices involving 1.7 million patients.
The NHS Health Check has so far resulted in:
- 2,500 people avoiding a major cardiovascular incident
- identified a new case of hypertension in every 27 appointments
- identified a new case of diabetes in every 110 appointments
- identified a new case of chronic kidney disease in every 265 appointments
- 14% of attendees referred to lifestyle interventions due to obesity, smoking, alcohol or blood pressure compared to just 6% of those who were referred through standard care
- six times more people with high alcohol consumption than those who do not attend, offering brief advice and support
However, while the programme was credited with a number of successes, the evaluation report warned that the number of eligible people having the check still needed to increase for it to “reach its full potential”.
The most recent annual data shows about 48% of all eligible people attend when invited. In addition, the latest evidence suggests the programme is most effective at targeting the older end of the eligible population and more work is needed to encourage uptake among those aged 40 to 60.
Study lead Dr John Robson said: “The NHS Health Check programme is the first of its kind anywhere in the world and our study demonstrates a modest but successful start.
“We estimate that the programme could help identify 44,000 new cases of hypertension, 10,000 new cases of diabetes and 4,500 new cases of kidney disease in England every year,” he added.
“These results are a real success story and show the life saving impact that health checks are having”
Professor John Newton, chief knowledge officer at Public Health England said: “It’s good to see the clear initial successes highlighted by this comprehensive and robust study of the NHS Health Check programme in its early stages.
But he noted there was “still more to be done to improve numbers and ensure those that need help get referrals for follow up treatment – which ultimately saves lives”.
Charities were more upbeat. Ceri Jones, head of prevention and behaviour change at the British Heart Foundation, said the results were a “real success story”.
She particularly highlighted the “major step towards tackling health inequalities” demonstrated by those from the most deprived areas and black and minority ethnic groups – who are at greatest risk of heart disease – being more likely to attend a check.
Louise Ansari, director of prevention of type 2 diabetes at Diabetes UK, said: “The Health Check is also an important way of helping us diagnose the hundreds of thousands of people who are walking around with type 2 diabetes but don’t realise they have the condition.”