The midlife health check with a GP, designed to spot some of the most common conditions that affect people as they age, is to be moved online in England under plans announced by ministers.
A pilot scheme is under way in Cornwall, with health officials saying they hope to capitalise on people’s increased familiarity with self-testing and reporting online since the emergence of Covid, in an attempt to ease the burden on the NHS. But, while some patients’ groups welcomed the move, they said testing at home would not be for everyone.
The NHS health check is designed to spot early signs of stroke, kidney disease and heart disease, as well as type 2 diabetes and some types of dementia in people aged 40 to 74.
The free check for people over 50, usually in the form of a GP appointment, is available to about 15 million people in England, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
Under the scheme, more than 2,000 people from three GP surgeries across Cornwall are being invited to carry out some of the assessment themselves, with only those whose results indicate an underlying health condition to be followed up by their GP.
Health officials hope this will mean fewer appointments are needed with GPs, giving them more time to focus on other patients. “The results of the trial will help inform the design and development of the new national NHS digital health check,” the DHSC said.
Prof Kamila Hawthorne, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “This initiative has potential to encourage people to take more of an active interest in their own health.”
She told the Times: “We expect to see a robust evaluation of this initiative, before further decisions to roll it out more widely are made,” adding that this should include how the checks are linked to GP records and how symptoms or recommended lifestyle changes are managed.
“It also needs to address concerns around the potential for causing unnecessary worry for patients who may not know how to interpret their findings, practice staffing implications regarding the running, interpretation and explanation of tests, and additions to GP workload.”
Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, told the paper: “DIY digitally enabled health checks will be fine for some people but won’t work for everyone, especially if they are not online. Therefore, it’s important that anyone who wants a face-to-face appointment with a practice nurse or other clinician for this purpose is still able to get one.
“It’s well known that many of us are walking around with easily treatable but undiagnosed conditions like high blood pressure or cholesterol, which are potentially a significant risk to our health. We therefore urge any older person who is offered a health check to take it up, especially if you’re someone lucky enough not to have needed NHS help very often recently, if at all.”
Neil O’Brien, the minister for public health, said: “The health check is crucial in preventing and identifying potentially life-threatening conditions, and this digital version will do just that while making patients’ lives easier and reducing pressure on frontline services.
“During the pandemic, people got used to doing tests at home and getting their results online, so this trial is an opportunity for us to apply some of the lessons we learnt during Covid and improve the way we deliver healthcare.”