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Digital Health Checks for Over-40s: Tackling Cardiovascular Disease

nhs health checks

The Department of Health and Social Care has announced today that new digital health checks to tackle deadly cardiovascular disease will be rolled out across England next spring. This initiative aims to deliver an additional one million checks in the first four years.

Ahead of the NHS’ 75th birthday next week the announcement forms part of plans to equip the NHS with the latest tools to keep people healthier longer, save staff time and ease pressures on services.

The rollout builds on the other technological initiatives the government is exploring and the results from the NHS Digital Health Check trial in Cornwall will inform next spring’s rollout.

NHS Health Checks

The Government claims that the current NHS Health Check has helped to prevent heart attacks and strokes and is currently a face-to-face check-up for adults in England aged 40 to 74. Commissioned by local authorities and largely delivered through GP surgeries, it can help spot early signs of stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or dementia.

Around 1.3 million health checks are delivered each year which the department of health says have helped to identify 315,000 people living with obesity, 33,000 cases of hypertension and have prevented over 400 heart attacks and strokes.

Updating the system

Cardiovascular disease is the second biggest killer in England and affects around 6.4 million people. The new digital check aims to identify 200,000 people who could benefit from the use of statins, 30,000 cases of hypertension – persistently high blood pressure – and prevent around 400 heart attacks and strokes over the first four years.

The commitment to deliver a digital check follows a recommendation from the 2021 NHS Health Check review, led by Professor John Deanfield CBE, who in March this year was appointed by the Secretary of State as the first Government Champion for Personalised Prevention.

From spring 2024 the new digital check will operate alongside the existing in person NHS Health Check. Patients will be able to access the check via a mobile phone, tablet or computer. They will complete an online questionnaire, enter height, weight, and blood pressure measurements, and the results of a blood test. The results will be available online and direct people to personalised advice to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke, as well as advice to stop smoking and weight management support where appropriate. Referrals to GPs will only be made if further tests and treatment are needed.

The new Digital Health Check is expected to deliver an additional one million checks over four years, while easing pressure on GP surgeries. Each digital check could save 20 minutes of NHS time – potentially freeing up hundreds of thousands of primary care appointments.

Responses

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said that “this new digital check-up will mean people can do simple tests and get tailored advice from homes while reducing pressure on GP services”. He also stated that this programme is “the latest example of how we are using technology to cut waiting times, one of the government’s five priorities, improve diagnosis and treatment”.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation said that millions of people are living with conditions associated with cardiovascular disease so “this initiative holds the potential to “reach more people and encourage them to get their blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked so that, where necessary, healthcare professionals can work with them to manage their condition”.

However, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said that digital health checks should not be used as a replacement to in-person appointments. Cllr David Baines, Vice-Chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board said “making more digital health checks available is a useful tool to detect certain illnesses but it should be treated as an addition to not a replacement of a physical health check, which is still the best way to provide early detection of ill health”.

Final thought

Innovation is vital to ensure countries continue to move at pace and scale. Given the stark pressures the NHS is under, the health and life science ecosystem must find solutions to improve population health and reduce inequalities. Fostering a digital health powerhouse is an essential and reachable target to achieve. We have been given a stark reminder in recent years of the importance of innovation in a medical capacity.

Curia’s NHS and Life Sciences Commission

Following the successful launch of the NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission’s 2022 Report, the Commission will appraise the outlined recommendations in 2023. This will allow a measurement of success to be taken on each implementation and a review of new priorities for the NHS and life sciences industry. The Commission will continue to review case studies to highlight best practice for the 2022 recommendations. Through a series of sprints, the Commission will highlight real-world experiences in regions across the UK. Through targeted health data mapping, relevant areas of unmet need and health inequalities can be chosen. Each sprint may appraise one or multiple topic areas from the 2022 report.

The Commission will also hold dedicated inquiry sessions into specific system-level and therapeutic areas of focus. Using the same methodology, the inquiries will provide opportunities for the Commission to gain implementable solutions to these areas and develop similar policy recommendations and reports.

The Commission will continue periodic consultation with selected advisory group bodies and sponsors to steer the methodology and direction of the 2023 activities.

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