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NHS health checks given a clean bill of health

Posted on 30 June 2017

An assessment of the NHS Health Check programme has concluded it represents value for money by helping some patients lose weight and reduce their risk of future disease caused by obesity.


The Health Check aims to identify the risk of developing a range of diseases in the future

The research was conducted by the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York and the UK Health Forum.

All members of the public between the ages of 40 and 74 are offered a free Health Check once every five years.

Conducted at the patient’s GP practice, the Health Check aims to identify their risk of developing a range of diseases in the future, including stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, and some types of dementia.

High risk

Patients who are identified as being at high risk of developing these diseases discuss with their GP how they can, with NHS support and personal actions, reduce the chance of developing the avoidable diseases related to obesity.

Despite being an NHS policy for eight years, little is known about whether the Health Checks represent a good use of limited NHS funding, or whether there are better ways of spending the money and using GP time to improve the health of patients. 

Using published estimates on the change in BMI for those that attended a Health Check, researchers from the University of York were able to determine the expected reduction in the proportion of participants who were overweight and obese, estimated at a 3.5 % reduction. 

Heart disease

A model developed by the UK Health Forum was then used to estimate the impact of this change in BMI distribution on long term rates of a number of diseases, including heart disease (which saw a 2.1% decrease in the maximum rate), diabetes (1.6%), stroke (1.5%) and high blood pressure (0.8%). 

By estimating the health benefits of fewer people suffering these diseases, alongside
the cost to the NHS of providing the Health Check and the long term cost savings of not having to treat these diseases in the future, the team were able to conclude that the current Health Checks are likely to be a cost-effective use of limited NHS resources. 

However, the estimated benefits of the Health Checks are just for obesity related diseases, and therefore potentially underestimate the total benefits.  Furthermore, the research team argue that a more targeted approach has the potential to save the NHS even more money in the long term due to the huge future cost faced by the NHS of diseases caused by obesity.

Obesity crisis

Sebastian Hinde, a Research Fellow at the University’s Centre for Health Economics said: “Despite facing major criticism since its launch in 2009 for poor levels of patient uptake and a lack of scientific evidence to justify its funding, this analysis suggests the NHS Health Checks may represent a cost effective use of limited NHS resources.

“In spite of poor uptake and a small impact on BMI, the scale of the obesity crisis faced by the NHS implies that any activity which reduces the level of obesity should be supported. 

“Despite previous studies having showed the Health Checks only had a small effect on patients’ weight, our study suggests that this small change is enough to justify the continued funding of the Health Checks. “

Further information:

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (www.nihr.ac.uk).

This article presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

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