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NHS Health Checks "vital for prevention and early diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes"

Diabetes UK has defended the NHS Health Check, the programme that assesses risk of conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke in those aged 40 to 74, after critics of the programme wrote a letter to The Times questioning its effectiveness.

Barbara Young, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK,appeared on the BBC News Channelto defend the programme, arguing that it can play a vital role in preventing Type 2 diabetes and in identifying some of the 850,000 people who have undiagnosed Type 2.She also wrote the following letter to The Times:

"SIR: I am writing to respond to yesterday’s front page article about the NHS Health Check (NHS Checks on over-40s condemned as “useless”).

Far from being useless, there is good evidence that, if properly implemented, it could prevent thousands of cases of Type 2 diabetes a year, as well as having a positive impact for heart disease, kidney disease and stroke.

And while the £300 million it costs to run might sound like a lot of money, diabetes and other chronic conditions are expensive to treat. This means that once you factor in the savings in healthcare costs, the NHS Health Check is actually expected to save the NHS about £132million per year.

One way it will save money is by identifying some of the estimated 850,000 people with undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes. Earlier this month, for example, we were contacted by a woman who had never even considered that she might be at high risk of the condition but was diagnosed following a health check. If she had not taken part in the programme she might not have been diagnosed for years, as some people can have it for a decade before being diagnosed, and so would not have had access to the healthcare that could reduce her risk of complications. As a direct result of the NHS Health Check, she is today able to access that care.

More broadly, the NHS Health Check can help us tackle the obesity crisis. No one thinks that on its own it will make us thinner as a nation but, by giving GPs the opportunity to raise what can be a difficult subject, it can be an important part of the solution. And while it may not be perfect – we question the fact that it does not include waist measurements, for example – this public squabble by the screening aficionados over the technical aspects of a perfectly useful programme is unhelpful and damaging to public confidence.

After all, what is the alternative the programme’s critics are suggesting? There are now 7 million people at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and 3.8 million people with diabetes, of whom 20 per cent haven’t been diagnosed, not to mention the impact obesity will have in terms of heart disease and cancer. As a country, the idea that we should just sit on our hands and watch this public health disaster unfold is just unthinkable.”

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