Page last updated at 10:58 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 11:58 UK

Health screening for the over-40s

Health check
Some 4m are affected by conditions like strokes and heart disease

Everyone aged 40 to 74 in England will be offered health checks for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease under new government plans.

Ministers believe the assessments will save lives and cut the number of people affected by these conditions.

Patients will visit a practice nurse or healthcare assistant and have a blood test. They will then be given advice or any necessary preventative treatment.

But doctors have doubts over how effective the screening will be.

The British Medical Association said GPs already carry out targeted blood pressure and cholesterol checks to help monitor patients' risk of these conditions.

The big focus must be on reaching those at highest risk, who are often in our most deprived and hard to reach communities
Professor Peter Weissberg, at the British Heart Foundation

Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA's GPs committee, said: "I cannot imagine how this will work.

"We just don't have the staff to take on this extra layer of work and I don't know where the evidence is that it will be effective."

The government has also been attacked by opposition parties as ministers have already announced similar health checks in recent years.

NHS life checks, which are health MOTs covering a range of conditions including heart disease, were unveiled in 2006 and have started to be rolled out. They cover various age groups, including the middle-aged.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "In the last two years, all they've done is re-announce the policy without actually doing anything about it.

"If the government had delivered on its promises, these checks would already be available."


And Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb added: "If we dip beneath the political rhetoric, Labour has been cutting essential public health programmes over the past few years."

But the government maintained this programme, which was first announced by the prime minister in January, was different as it would be more proactive.

The life checks rely on people putting themselves forward whereas these latest checks are likely to be offered to each person individually.

Ministers said that computer modelling shows that offering the checks to those aged 40 to 74 - approximately a third of the population - will save 2,000 lives a year and prevent 9,500 heart attacks and strokes.

Under the plans, each person who has a check will receive a personal report setting out their risk of getting the conditions and guidance on how to prevent them.

This may include access to programmes, such as weight loss and smoking cessation clinics, and prescriptions for drugs such as cholesterol-busting statins.

Pilots are expected to be carried out by GP staff - including nurses - this autumn. A full roll-out will start from 2009.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: "The case for a national programme of vascular checks is compelling.

"The NHS is becoming more personal and responsive to individual needs - becoming as good at prevention and keeping people healthy as it is at providing care and cures."

But campaigners have warned if the scheme was going to be successful it would have to be properly funded.

The government estimates it could cost 250m a year to fund and promised money had been set aside.

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "These risk assessments could really help tackle vascular conditions, but will only work if it is backed up by real investment.

"The big focus must be on reaching those at highest risk, who are often in our most deprived and hard to reach communities."

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