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NHS to Launch Home-based Digital Health Checks

A new digital health check delivering an additional one million checks in the first 4 years is to be rolled out in England in Spring 2024.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) underlined that the current face-to-face NHS health check for adults in England aged 40-74 had helped to prevent 400 heart attacks and strokes. 

Around 1.3 million health checks were delivered each year, it said, checks that "identified 315,000 people living with obesity and 33,000 cases of hypertension".

Around 15 million people were eligible for free NHS Health Checks in England, highlighted the DHSC. However, figures from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) showed that the number of people taking up the invitation to the check had fallen by 20% in recent years. In 2016/17, 50% took up the invitation, but by 2021/22 this number had fallen to 40.6%.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said that the new digital NHS health check initiative would help to "reach more people".

Since COVID, People are 'Used to Doing Tests at Home'

NHS health checks were currently delivered through face-to-face appointments in general practice, but "many parts of the check can be done without a GP", the DHSC said.

Patients would be able to access the digital health check via a mobile phone, tablet, or computer, explained the DHSC, and would complete an online questionnaire, enter height, weight, and blood pressure measurements, as well as the results of a blood test.

The results would 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 – helping to reduce demand on GP services," the spokesperson explained.

Minister for Public Health Neil O'Brien said the health check, which is "crucial" in identifying risks and preventing potentially life-threatening conditions, and the "digital version will do just that while making patients' lives easier and reducing pressure on frontline services".

"During the pandemic people got used to doing tests at home and getting their results online," he said, so this was an opportunity to apply some of the lessons learnt during COVID-19 and improve the way healthcare was delivered.

Each Digital Check Could 'Save 20 Min of NHS Time'

The rollout built on the Better Health: Rewards app pilot launched in February this year in Wolverhampton, where people were incentivised to eat healthily and exercise more with, for example, supermarket vouchers and cinema tickets. It would also be informed by the results from the NHS Digital Health Check trial in Cornwall that was launched in December last year.

"Each digital check could save 20 minutes of NHS time – potentially freeing up hundreds of thousands of primary care appointments," said the DHSC, and could ease pressure on GP surgeries as well as "cut NHS waiting times" at a time when the NHS faced unprecedented patient demand.

Patients also had to take time out of their day to go to the face-to-face appointment, so the new digital NHS health check would have the added benefit of eliminating this "inconvenience" for them, emphasised the DHSC.

Commenting to Medscape News UK , Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said that the digital NHS health check could help many patients identify risks to their health. 

"As well as save lives, this would significantly ease pressure on the NHS by preventing hospital admissions," she said.

However, individual initiatives this like were not enough, she cautioned, and pointed out that not everyone can access digital support. 

The Government needed a much more strategic approach to properly fund trusts to advance their own digital priorities, she said, such as "bolstering IT infrastructure and implementing electronic patient records, and invest in frontline staff", she added.