Patients to carry out health checks at home to ease pressure on frontline services

By Jo Makosinski | Published: 9-Dec-2022

Cornwall the first area in England to trial the NHS Digital Health Check as part of government plans to digitise existing face-to-face health checks

A landmark trial to make it easier and more convenient for patients to carry out important health checks at home and reduce pressure on GP surgeries has been launched in Cornwall.

The trial – which is the first of its kind in England and part of the Government’s plans to digitise the existing NHS Health Check – will see patients complete an online questionnaire, use a kit to take a blood sample at home, and complete a blood pressure check at their local pharmacy or in a GP waiting room.

The system will apply some of the lessons learned during COVID-19 when people got used to doing tests at home and getting their results online.

The NHS Health Check is a health check-up for adults in England aged 40-74 and is designed to prevent stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of dementia.

A total of 15 million people are currently eligible for the free checks in England.

Currently these are delivered through face-to-face appointments with GPs, but many parts of the check can be done without a GP, which means freeing up more time for clinicians.

Patients also have to take time out of their day to go to the appointment, often at an inconvenience to them, with the new trial aiming to free up time for more-urgent GP appointments.

More than 2,000 people from three GP surgeries across Cornwall are being invited to take part in the trial – and only those whose results indicate an underlying health condition will be followed up by their GP.

Reducing the pressure

The results of the trial will help inform the design and development of the new national NHS Digital Health Check.

Minister for Public Health, Neil O’Brien, said: “Innovation is key to a modern, forward-looking National Health Service, and this trial will help us understand what a new digital NHS Health Check could look like in the years to come.

“The health check is crucial in preventing and identifying potentially-life-threatening conditions, and this digital version will do just that while making patients’ lives easier and reducing pressure on frontline services.”

The checks have the potential to:

  • Prevent 1,600 heart attacks and strokes
  • Prevent 4,000 people a year from developing diabetes
  • Detect 20,000 cases of diabetes or kidney disease each year
  • Avoid at least 650 premature deaths a year

Dr Andy Sant, managing director of NHS Cornwall’s North and East Integrated Care Area, said: “Much has been achieved in our county around digital inclusion and the preventative value of health checks is already proven.

“So, we are delighted that patients in Cornwall are being given the first opportunity to access a digital version through this innovative trial.

Wide-reaching benefits

“Amid such sustained pressure upon general practice, this is a welcome and logical progression and the associated benefits are wide-reaching, from the convenience and savings for patients, to the positive impact on GP appointments.”

The offer of NHS Health Checks has been historically lower in Cornwall than most local authorities in England.

During 2019/2020 over 13,400 checks were offered and over 6,900 were completed, but in 2021/2022 approximately 4,300 were offered and just over 1,900 were completed.

Councillor Dr Andy Virr, portfolio holder for adults and public health at Cornwall Council, said: It is great news that this important trial involving innovative use of technology is being carried out in Cornwall and I would encourage all those invited to take part to do so.

“We know there are avoidable differences in people’s health across our communities and cardiovascular disease still has a big impact on people in Cornwall.

“So, by making health checks like this easier to access and more convenient, we can hopefully prevent more-serious illnesses and identify people who may be at risk of stroke or heart attack earlier.

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