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NEWS: Genes and apps could limit health check invites

by in GP Practice Management, News

The NHS could seek to cut the cost of screening middle-aged adults by using apps and AI, it was announced today.

The government said it wanted to make the health check programme “more targeted.” This would mean only selected patients invited for physical checks.

Others would be encouraged to take their own blood pressure and measurements using apps. There would be greater use of genetic screening to identify those at risk, according to the proposals.

The health check programme has been controversial as many people do not take up the offer of checks – and others fail to follow up findings. The Local Government Association said the changes should not be used to justify cuts in public health spending – some £700 million in the last five years.

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, chair of its community wellbeing board, said: “This is why we want the Government to reverse these cuts in the upcoming Spending Round and invest in prevention to not only improve the health and quality of life of people but also reduce the burden on council services and the NHS.”

The Royal College of GPs said it had questioned the benefits of blanket health checks – but any changes would need “careful consideration.” Chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “While the focus on only offering health checks to certain groups at risk of certain conditions is a move in the right direction – we need to ensure the methods used to determine who should be invited for one are properly thought through and based on rigorous evidence.

“The College has already expressed its concerns around the unintended consequences of widespread whole genome DNA testing to determine whether a patient has a genetic disposition to certain conditions. While more targeted predictive genetic testing is an important step forward, there are many issues to be explored in this review.

“We need to consider, for example, the increased workload for GPs and healthcare professionals across the NHS as patients want to discuss their genetic results; the huge ethical and financial implications of suddenly knowing what health conditions you may be more susceptible to; and patients being worried about any health concerns that are identified but of dubious personal impact or where nothing can be done to improve the prognosis.”

But GP Dr Kailash Chand said: “How do we define who is low, medium and high risk? It is only tests that will determine that. Health technology tends to be a waste of time: it either gives false positives or it does not tell us exactly what is going on. As a result, many of the patients who have online health checks will end up needing to see their GP anyway.”

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