More targeted approach to health checks welcome, but method needs careful consideration, says RCGP

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, has responded to a government announcement that it will put an end to ‘one size fits all’ NHS health checks.

Professor Stokes-Lampard said: “The College has questioned the benefits of blanket health checks for everyone over a certain age for a long time – so a more targeted, evidence-based approach is certainly a positive step forward.

“However, 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.

“It is essential that any new approach to health checks is subject to rigorous evaluation to ensure its safety, accuracy, and benefit for patients’ health. We also need to ensure that for digital or online services being promised, GPs and their teams have the technological resources and training to manage these and prevent additional strain on a profession already facing such intense resource and workforce pressures.”