Page last updated at 09:06 GMT, Friday, 15 May 2009 10:06 UK

Probe into private health scans

Mobile scanning
The scanners are set up in town halls and community centres

An investigation has been launched into private screening company Life Line, which offers tests to detect the early signs of stroke and heart disease.

A group of medical experts, including vascular surgeons, is concerned about the reliability of results and the company's clinical procedures.

It comes two weeks after BBC Breakfast reported concerns about Life Line's marketing of tests.

The company said it had very strict quality standards.

About 75,000 people in the UK have paid Life Line up to £150 for tests for conditions such as heart disease and strokes - often after getting letters.

We have done 100,000 scans and we have been contacted by just one person who said there was a difference of opinion over the results
Aileen Morrison
Life Line

GPs say the letters are scaremongering and the tests are often unnecessary.

Life Line Screening UK, originally founded in the US, said it identified risks and that NHS tests were only provided if patients displayed symptoms.

A package of five tests for conditions such as strokes, heart disease, aneurysms and osteoporosis costs about £150 from the firm.

The Society for Vascular Technology has decided to launch its own investigation into the company, saying that Life Line does not follow best practice guidelines.

Accepted UK practice is for one person to do the scan, interpret the findings, and write up the report.

In contrast, Life Line send the initial findings to be reviewed by a doctor, then post the result to the patient.

Elaine Young, president of the society, said: "We would not endorse that as a method for carrying out vascular ultrasound scans.

"We feel the potential for misinterpretation or loss of data means it is not the best way for them to be performed."

The Society is backed by other organisations, such as the Society of Radiographers and the Vascular Society.

Potential discrepancies

Neil Browning, a surgeon from Surrey, said he had seen significant discrepancies between Life Line's scans and those carried out by his own vascular scientists in about a third of cases.

When I received this letter I thought I was on my death bed
Mohindra Handa

He said: "If you are telling somebody that they have got, for example, an aortic aneurysm and they have not, they are sitting there imaging they have a potentially life-threatening condition.

"It has an effect on the hospital, on resources, we generally end up repeating all the scans - that is an additional time and cost."

Mohindra Handa underwent a carotid artery scan with Life Line, which suggested an abnormal result.

However, when he then underwent tests on the NHS he was given the all-clear.

He said: "When I received this letter I thought I was on my death bed.

"It took more than two months before I got the NHS results, and during that period I was so worried."

High standards

Life Line said it was shocked about the level of discrepancies reported, and took the issue very seriously.

However, the company said there was no independent proof that there scans were incorrect, or that NHS scans were more reliable.

Aileen Morrison, clinical manager for Life Line Screening UK, said: "We have done 100,000 scans and we have been contacted by just one person who said there was a difference of opinion over the results, and dealt with that very seriously.

"We have very strict quality assurance guidelines - all our sonographers have their skills assessed every six months, and we also carry out audits on the scans."

A number of patients contacted the BBC to say they were extremely happy with the service they received by Life Line.

Malcolm Wilson said a Life Line scan picked up a severe aortic aneurysm, which could have ruptured at any time, killing him.

But according to the body which advises the government on screening, the procedures offered by private companies such as Life Line Screening can be expensive, unnecessary and misleading.

The UK National Screening Committee says the NHS offers tests for osteoporosis, strokes and heart disease for free.



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