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Patients need protection from 'irresponsible' screening


New safeguards are needed to protect patients from the “irresponsible” direct marketing of private health screening tests, according to medical leaders.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and the British Medical Association believe people are being “exploited” by misleading advertising for private screening.

They warned that many of the procedures available are inaccurate and unreliable, with some individuals taking the tests being given false reassurance.

A strengthening of marketing rules for health screening is needed to ensure that advertising is “balanced” and “factual”, they said.

Proposed safeguards would require all marketing material to include details of the risks and limitations of tests, the implications of the results and any follow-up procedures.

There should also be information on the health benefits from a test, including the evidence for this health benefit.

Doctors say that results from procedures such as the prostate specific antigen test for cancer - administered in GP surgeries when a person has shown symptoms - needed to be explained to patients.

They have also warned that individuals should not be given results for tests such as cholesterol levels without receiving advice based upon their full medical history.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Why?

    Where is the evidence that these tests are inaccurate and unreliable or they are being given false assurances?

    Surely any screening is a good thing.

    Nurses and Doctors are still accountable for their actions and held up to the same standards wether they work privately or for the NHS.

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  • totally disagree mike, these companies prey on the vunerable and those whom in some respects are known as the "worried well". If you need these tests then you will be investigated for them free of charge.

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  • Hmmm, I see your point Simon, but there are also a lot of people who simply do not want to wait for NHS appointments, and I agree about the 'worried well', but if these people want to spend their money quelling their insecurities with a private company (and therefore not using up NHS resources) then why not let them?

    In the majority of cases the 'patient' will be reassured, the private company will make a profit, and the NHS will save money. In a few cases, some people may even find something they never knew they had and get further help either from the NHS or privately.

    I really don't see a down side.

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  • Screening is not always a 'good thing' - it can involve some very difficult choices, and there are always the risks of false positives and false negatives. The UK National Screening Committee only recommends the introduction of an NHS screening programme based on the latest research evidence to ensure that they do not cause more harm than good.

    The UK NSC is working hard to ensure that patients and healthcare professionals are aware of the issues concerning private screening, so that people can make informed decisions about whether to pay for these services. More information on the UK NSC and screening in general can be found on our website (

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