Page last updated at 09:26 GMT, Friday, 3 October 2008 10:26 UK

'Cash for unhealthy to visit GP'

GP consultation
Health checks could cut heart disease and diabetes

Health bosses are considering cash incentives to encourage the unhealthiest people to visit their GP.

North East Essex primary care trust is planning a pilot scheme using cash or vouchers to get those from deprived areas to attend health checks.

The trust says the plans could save the NHS thousands of pounds by preventing conditions such as heart disease.

But critics said the NHS should not be using scarce resources effectively to bribe people to live healthily.

The proposals were discussed this week by a meeting of the trust board.

I'm spending at the moment about 40m on heart disease - a very small input into things like smoking cessation, exercise, encouraging people to contact us would reduce that dramatically
Dr Paul Zollinger-Read

One option under consideration is offering money or vouchers, such as 20 mobile top-ups to children in care for a one-off appointment with the GP.

Helping people in cold damp houses to pay fuel bills is another scheme being looked at by bosses as a way to prevent illnesses such as chest infections.

Inequality

Dr Paul Zollinger-Read, a GP and chief executive of the trust said he was determined to do whatever he could to tackle 13-year difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in the area.

He said schemes in New York to incentivise people to attend annual health checks had been shown to be very successful.

"When I sit in my surgery as a GP I can look at the list of people with heart disease, I can write to them but they don't attend.

"We have to look at a different mechanism for reaching these people.

"I'm spending at the moment about 40m on heart disease - a very small input into things like smoking cessation, exercise, encouraging people to contact us would reduce that dramatically."

In response to criticism that the NHS should not be paying "bribes" when there is rationing of things like cancer drugs Dr Zollinger-Read said the trust had robust plans for all areas of health care that were debated with the public.

But Tam Fry from the National Obesity Forum said they were "very worried" about the idea of paying people to go to the GP.

A better use of NHS money would be taking the surgery to the people, he said.

"There is a scheme in South West Scotland where community nurses are going into supermarkets and they're engaging with the people they think might be unhealthy."

He added that the proposals should be evaluated in a pilot before being rolled out.

"Personally I doubt it would be cost effective."

A DH spokesman said: "We encourage action to tackle health inequalities wherever they occur.

"However, it is down to local NHS organisations, in agreement with their local stakeholders, to decide on how best to use their resources to ensure they provide the most appropriate patient care and services for their patients."


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