Health checks could become more personalised

Author: Adrian O'Dowd
Health checks could become more personalised

The NHS Health Check service could become more personalised with new intelligent, predictive checks, taking age, risk factors and lifestyle into account.

The government has today announced an evidence-based review of the NHS Health Check service which currently offers checks to everyone aged between 40 and 74 to spot early signs of conditions that cause early death, including stroke, kidney disease, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Doctors’ leaders have welcomed a more targeted approach to health checks, but said the methods used needed to be carefully considered.

The current approach pays little attention to people’s individual risks or needs so the review will explore how to improve the system, with a focus on offering personalised interventions based on factors such as age, where people live, and DNA.

Over the last five years, the NHS Health Check programme has identified more than 700,000 people at high risk of cardiovascular disease and it has saved an estimated 500 lives each year, said the government, but there was potential for people to benefit even more from a more tailored service.

More than 14 million people – 90% of the eligible population – have been offered an NHS Health Check in the last five years and almost seven million have taken it up.

The proposed changes are part of a wider move away from blanket approaches to public health, to an approach that takes personal choices into account, said the Department of Health and Social Care.

The new health checks will draw on lessons learned from cancer, for example, which is the most advanced area of personalised medicine in terms of detection and treatment.

The review will also explore:

  • a special check-up for people approaching retirement age to help prevent or delay future care needs
  • increasing the range of advice the checks can offer, such as prevention of musculoskeletal problems or early action on hearing loss
  • ways to increase the uptake of health checks
  • the digitisation of health checks where appropriate.

An intelligent check might target drinking advice at 40 to 49-year-olds, because alcohol use is more common in this age group, while 70 to 74-year-olds could be targeted with advice on how to reduce their blood pressure.

Those at low risk of cardiovascular disease may benefit from less frequent, online check-ups.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “Personalised, preventative healthcare is mission critical to the future-fit healthcare service we want to build. We must harness the latest technology and techniques to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach of the past.

“The review we are announcing today will be an important step towards achieving that, helping us to find data-led, evidenced-based ways to support people to spot, manage and prevent risks to their health through targeted intervention.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners said: “The college has questioned the benefits of blanket health checks for everyone over a certain age for a long time – so a more targeted, evidence-based approach is certainly a positive step forward.

“However, while the focus on only offering health checks to certain groups at risk of certain conditions is a move in the right direction – we need to ensure the methods used to determine who should be invited for one are properly thought through and based on rigorous evidence.

“We also need to ensure that for digital or online services being promised, GPs and their teams have the technological resources and training to manage these and prevent additional strain on a profession already facing such intense resource and workforce pressures.”