Health checks uptake soars – but many are still missing out

Lives of people in East Sussex could be saved if more people took advantage of free NHS checks, public health officials have said.

Uptake of the service has increased by 30 per cent from the previous financial quarter, since East Sussex County Council took over responsibility for it in April 2013, but many who are invited for a check still don’t accept the offer.

County public health chiefs renewed their call for more people to take the checks as Public Health England launched a new 10-point plan to try and increase the number of people using the service.

Cynthia Lyons, acting East Sussex director of public health, said: “We’ve been working closely with GPs to try and increase the number of health checks offered and accepted, and the figures since April are very encouraging.

“However, there are still thousands of eligible people in the county who have not taken advantage of the service.

“By identifying problems early, health checks can help people to have longer, healthier lives and we’d strongly encourage people to take advantage of this free service.”

The checks are offered to adults aged 40 to 74 who have not already been diagnosed with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and certain types of dementia or those who have certain risk factors.

A newly-published Public Health England review reveals 650 lives across the country could be saved and 1,600 heart attacks and 4,000 cases of diabetes prevented each year if all those eligible took advantage of NHS health checks.

In East Sussex, 172,738 adults were eligible for the service in 2012-13. In that year, 15,499 people were offered a check with 8,833 (57 per cent of those offered and 5.1 per cent of the eligible population) taking up the invitation.

Encouragingly, in the first quarter of the current financial year, 6,574 adults were offered the checks and 3,405 took advantage of the service, an increase of 123 per cent on the same period last year.

The figures show variations between the county’s three Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) areas, with Hastings and Rother having the highest uptake rate, with 65 per cent of those offered receiving the checks.

In the High Weald, Lewes and Havens CCG area, 59 per cent of those offered received the checks while in Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford CCG the rate was 40 per cent.

The long-term aim is to invite 20 per cent of the eligible population each year to benefit from the programme, which systematically targets the top seven causes of preventable mortality: high blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity and alcohol consumption.

Dr Roger Elias, Chair of Hastings and Rother CCG said: “These free health checks play a vital role in enabling doctors to spot risk factors before these conditions, which can have a devastating effect on people’s lives, are allowed to develop.

“If you receive an invitation from your GP for a health check we’d urge you to take advantage of it.

“If you haven’t received an invitation and don’t see your GP on a regular basis for pre-existing heart disease, diabetes, hypertension or cerebrovascular disease but would like a health check we’d also encourage you to get in touch with your surgery and request one.”