The NHS Health Check programme prevents around 300 premature deaths and results in more people living free of cardiovascular disease in England each year, according to a new study published this week in PLOS Medicine led by researchers at the University of Cambridge, UK. Feasible changes in the delivery of the programme could result in up to a three-fold increase in the benefits.
The NHS Health Check programme was introduced in 2009 in England to systematically assess all adults in mid-life for cardiovascular disease risk factors. In the new study, researchers developed a model to simulate the population of England aged 40 years and over using data from the Health Survey for England and the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. They used recent performance data from the Health Check programme, and published data on the uptake and effectiveness of the treatments offered, to estimate the benefits of the current programme compared to a healthcare system without Health Checks.
The researchers estimate that for every million people aged 40-45 years, the NHS Health Check programme could prevent 390 (95% CI 290-500) premature deaths before age 80 and result in an additional 1370 (95% CI 1100-1690) people being free of ischemic heart disease, stroke, dementia and lung cancer at age 80. These numbers correspond to 300 fewer premature deaths and 1000 more people living free of these diseases in England each year. The benefits were greatest for people living in the most deprived areas of England suggesting the programme is reducing health inequalities.
Dr Oliver Mytton, an Academic Clinical Lecturer at the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, says:
Our work suggests that the current NHS Health Check Programme is contributing to improvements in population health and reducing health inequalities, and importantly it is adding life to years rather than just adding years to life.”
The study also suggested that there is significant scope to increase the benefits by making feasible changes to the programme. A ‘maximum potential’ strategy that combines extending eligibility to those with pre-existing hypertension, extending the upper age of eligibility to 79 years, increasing uptake of health checks by 30%, and increasing treatment rates amongst eligible patients 2.5-fold could result in a 3-fold increase in benefits compared to the current programme.
Prof Nick Wareham, Director of the MRC Epidemiology Unit, says:
“There appears to be considerable scope to improve the health benefits of the programme, particularly by ensuring that those who are eligible for treatment actually receive it.”
While the findings are encouraging, the authors acknowledge that the future benefits will be less if the incidence of strokes and heart disease continues to decline, as it has been for the past thirty years. They also note that some important non-cardiovascular benefits (e.g. chronic obstructive pulmonary disease prevention from smoking cessation, and cancer prevention from weight loss) and other parts of the programme (e.g. brief interventions to reduce harmful alcohol consumption) were not included in the model.
Dr Christopher Jackson of the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge says:
“While it is important to understand the benefits of the programme, and how it can be improved, we also need to better understand the additional costs involved in delivering the programme, so that we can make the best use of scarce resources”.
Dr James Woodcock of MRC Epidemiology Unit says:
“We know in many parts of the country there has been a major effort to ensure people living in more deprived areas who are at higher risk of heart disease are offered and attend a health check, our work suggests this strategy has been successful and the programme is contributing to reducing inequalities in health.”
- Read the full paper: “The current and potential health benefits of the NHS Health Check Programme: a micro-simulation study” Oliver T. Mytton, Chris Jackson, Arno Steinacher, Anna Goodman, Claudia Langenberg, Simon Griffin, Nick Wareham, and James Woodcock, PLOS Medicine, 06 March 2018.
About the NHS Health check
Cardiovascular disease accounts for around a quarter of all deaths and costs around £15 billion annually in the UK. While there are a set of well-established actions to prevent cardiovascular disease, the uptake of these preventive interventions is suboptimal.
To address this, the NHS Health Check programme offers structured vascular risk assessments for adults aged 40–74 years without preexisting diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Adults identified at higher risk of disease are offered appropriate treatment, either medication or behavioural (e.g. weight loss programmes or smoking cessation services).
It is one of the first such national programmes in the world. Whilst the programme is focused primarily on vascular disease, it has expanded to include other components, notably concerning alcohol consumption.
Official statistics on the NHS Health Check are available at: