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Millions miss out on vital diabetes health checks

Less than half of eligible population received NHS Health Check

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Fewer than half of the population in England who should be receiving the preventative NHS Health Check have had one, according to a new analysis by Diabetes UK.

The charity has analysed NHS Health Check data and found that less than half of over 40-year-olds eligible for an NHS Health Check in the last five years have actually received one.

Launched in England in 2009, the programme offers a five-yearly check-up to everyone aged 40 to 74 with the aim of spotting early signs of type 2 diabetes, stroke, kidney disease, heart disease and dementia.

Anyone in the age group without a pre-existing condition should receive a letter from their GP or local authority inviting them for a free NHS Health Check every five years.

Diabetes UK analysed the data and found that between 2013 and 2018, the population of people eligible to receive an NHS Health Check in England totalled 15.5 million, but only 6.8 million (44%) went on to receive one.

There was significant regional variation of health checks across England. In the East of England, 50% of the eligible population attended the health check between 2013 and 2018, but in the South West, this figure was only 35%.

Variation was even greater on a local authority level, with a five-fold variation between the best and worst performing local authorities.

Since 2013, local authorities have had a legal duty to “seek continuous improvement” in the numbers of people in their area having a health check, with funding from the ring-fenced public health grant.

The charity said it urged local authorities to do more to get people to their health check because this was a vital route for referral into the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme for those who are found to be at high risk of type 2 diabetes.

The charity estimates that there are 12.3 million people at increased risk of developing diabetes and knowing their risk could help them prevent the onset of the condition.

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.

“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.”

Professor Jamie Waterall, Public Health England’s (PHE) national lead for the NHS Health Check programme, said: “The continued effort to expand the NHS Health Check programme is so important as it helps identify who is at risk and, more importantly, what they can do about it.

“PHE is working hard to support every council to provide these vital checks for people aged 40 to 74 years old.”

Nick Forbes, senior vice chair of the Local Government Association, 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.

“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.”

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