Millions of people in England have missed out on a chance to get early help for conditions such as diabetes and heart disease by failing to attend their NHS Health Check, according to a charity investigation.
Data analysis by Diabetes UK shows less than half of people eligible for the “health MOT” in the last five years received one.
“It is absolutely vital that all people who are eligible in every area get a health check”
The programme was launched in England in 2009 and offers a routine check-up every five years to people aged 40 to 74, with the aim of spotting early signs of issues like type 2 diabetes, stroke, kidney disease, heart disease and dementia.
The examinations are often carried out by a nurse or healthcare assistant.
The investigation by Diabetes UK found 15.4 million people were eligible for an NHS Health Check between 2013 and 2018, but only 6.8 million (44%) had one.
The Health and Social Care Act 2012 made local authorities responsible for commissioning and monitoring the programme in their area using their ring-fenced public health budget from the government.
They have a legal responsibility to invite 100% of eligible people to a check-up every five years and are expected to deliver continuous improvements to uptake, noted the charity.
The data analysis by Diabetes UK reveals that people face a so-called postcode lottery when it comes to the NHS Health Check, with a five-fold variation between the best and worst performing councils.
“We are working hard to support every council to provide these vital checks”
Walsall is the only council in England where almost all of the eligible population received a check during the five-year period at 91%. The worst performing areas were East Riding of Yorkshire and Croydon, with 18% each.
Diabetes UK is today urging councils to do more to ensure people take up the offer of an NHS Health Check.
Robin Hewings, head of policy at Diabetes UK, said: “The success of the programme in certain areas is due to local councils working hard to make it easier for people to attend these free health checks that only take 15 minutes and can help keep people healthy.”
He added: “It is absolutely vital that all people who are eligible in every area get a health check.
“If left undiagnosed type 2 diabetes can lead to devastating complications, including blindness, amputations, stroke and kidney failure, but with the right treatment and support people living with the condition can lead a long, full and healthy life,” he said.
Responding to the figures, Nick Forbes, senior vice chair of the Local Government Association (LGA), called on the government to reverse cuts to councils’ public health budgets. The LGA highlighted that these budgets had been sliced by £600m between 2015 and 2020.
“It is vital that the joined-up work between councils and the NHS is strengthened”
Mr Forbes said: “Councils have spent millions of pounds inviting more than 14 million eligible people to have an NHS Health Check over the last five years, of which around half have taken up the offer.
“However, if we are to continue to tackle or delay avoidable ill health such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in England, it is vital that eligible people get checked in order to increase uptake rates,” he said.
“This will not only help people live healthier lives for longer, by identifying undetected risk factors and targeting high risk groups, but also reduce huge pressures and costs on the NHS, social care and councils’ public health services as well as wider society,” Mr Forbes said.
He added: “To reduce the variation in the number of offers and uptake across the country, it is vital that the joined-up work between councils and the NHS is strengthened and organisations, such as Diabetes UK, join our call for government to reverse reductions to councils’ public health budgets.”
Professor Jamie Waterall, national lead for the NHS Health Check programme at Public Health England, said it was “working hard to support every council to provide these vital checks for people aged 40 to 74 years old”.
The Department of Health was contacted but declined to comment.