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Health checks can be good news for our health

Commenting on a Public Health England review of health checks, Dr John Middleton, Vice President of the Faculty of Public Health, said:

"Health checks can be good news for our health, particularly for people in deprived areas, who may  already have undiagnosed illnesses and who might otherwise not get treatment. Many local authority public health departments around the country welcome the availability of the NHS Health Check to  tackle seven big causes of death in England: high blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity and alcohol consumption.

"Working with colleagues in general practice and pharmacies, public health professionals are using  risk assessment tools to reach people at highest risk first.  But there is general concern among public health experts that more extensive evaluation of the programme is needed to determine how effective it really is. We welcome the commitment of Public Health England to evaluate the programme more fully.
"Although common sense would suggest that health checks should save lives, public health experts believe the evidence for their effectiveness is  so far limited. The Cochrane collaboration's eview of research this year suggested the checks were ineffective in saving lives. This study was based on older research before statins and aspirin and risk assessment tools became available.

"Health experts are concerned that health checks may produce too many 'false positives' that mean people end up having intrusive and expensive treatment that they don't need for an illness or disease they don't actually have.

"It's important that people don't waste money on expensive private health checks that the NHS provides for free. Some private sector health checks can be unhelpful because they are aggressively  promoted, create unnecessary anxiety and suggest people have illnesses which they don't actually have. They can also give people inadequate guidance and counselling on what the results mean.

"Ultimately, prevention is better than cure: it's far better and more cost effective to prevent ill health through measures, such as standardised packs for cigarettes, that are proven to work than to treat the illness. While FPH agrees that there health checks are a useful tool, we would like to see more resources go into preventing the reasons why people become ill in the first place."

Written: 23/07/2013 , last modified: 11/10/2013