NHS health checks for the over-40s are “ineffective” and waste around £450 million a year, a damning report from the London School of Economics (LSE) and the University of Liverpool has concluded.
Under the NHS Health Check (NHSHC) programme, anyone in England aged 40 to 74 without cardiovascular disease is invited for a check every five years.
It is advertised as offering a “mid-life MOT” that can help to prevent heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, stroke and dementia, as well as to provide support and advice to help individuals manage and reduce their risk of developing these diseases in future.
Extending the scheme to all NHS staff was also one of the centrepieces of NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens’ £5 million campaign to improve the health, fitness and wellbeing of NHS staff, unveiled in September.
However, the LSE and Liverpool University research, published in the Journal of Public Health, has argued that the programme fails to achieve the objectives outlined above. Furthermore, it “relies on weak concepts, denies strong scientific counter-evidence and ignores persistent implementation issues”, it said.
The report argued that the money could be better spent on more effective interventions, such as those targeted at child and maternal health, or effective strategies promoting healthy eating, which have the potential to halve the burden of premature cardiovascular disease.
It said: “Healthcare professionals, services and local authorities are all mandated to implement NHSHCs. In spite of austerity policies, they are required to commit time and scarce resources to activities of debatable effectiveness and cost-effectiveness… this saps morale, particularly considering the substantial opportunity costs of failing to invest those scarce resources in alternative, more effective interventions.”
The Royal College of General Practitioners has also been sceptical about the programme, with then-president Dr Clare Gerada in 2013 calling for the checks to be scrapped, and the college reiterating its opposition to the programme in May this year.
However, Public Health England (PHE) has strongly refuted the LSE/Liverpool University research. In a letter to The Guardian newspaper, Duncan Selbie, PHE chief executive, argued: “We keep under review data relating to NHS Health Check. If the data suggested the programme was harmful, or demonstrably cost-ineffective, we would advise the Department of Health accordingly.”