The government is pressing ahead with plans to give all people in England over the age of 40 a ‘health MOT’ as part of a new, heavier focus on disease prevention to better the health of the nation, tackle health inequalities, and help the NHS cope with the increasing demands of an ageing population.

The idea behind health MOTs – plans for which were first touted back in 2006 and then confirmed last year - is that patients at risk of developing serious illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes will be picked up on the radar much earlier, allowing for quicker lifestyle or drug-based interventions to either ward off or better treat potentially life-threatening conditions.

The recent heavier focus on disease prevention as opposed to just cure is borne from ever growing demands on an already stretched health service, which is struggling under the weight of burgeoning rates of diabetes and heart disease amid an ageing – and fattening – society.

Recently it emerged that new cases of diabetes type II in the UK surged an incredible 74% in just six years, with the disease now costing the NHS around £1 million an hour, and last year the hard-hitting Foresight Report predicted an explosion in the prevalence of obesity, with associated costs expected to hit £45 billion by 2050, highlighting the urgent need to implement effective prevention strategies now.

Under the plans, from next month everyone in England will be invited to undergo a free health check in order to identify those at risk of developing serious and expensive to manage/treat illnesses such as coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease, as well as better inform people of these conditions, in a move which the government claims will help to save 650 lives and prevent 1,600 heart attacks every year.

The health check will be centred on questions regarding patients’ general health, lifestyles, family medical history, height and weight measurements, cholesterol and where necessary blood glucose tests, and will be followed up with a personal assessment of disease risk and recommendations on how to best reduce it, at an annual cost of around £330 million.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said the ambitious screening programme should be fully implemented by 2012/13, and that health checks are “likely to be available at GP surgeries, health centres, walk in centres and pharmacies to ensure as many people benefit from them as possible”.

A spokesperson for the British Medical Association told PharmaTimes UK News yesterday that the agency is “is in discussions about the use of health MOTs, but it is too early to say how they would be put into practice”. However, when plans for vascular screening were confirmed by the Department of Health last year the BMA voiced “serious concerns” about the pressure the move could put on an already overstretched general practice.

MRSA screening
Meantime, the DH announced new measures to screen all elective patients for the superbug MRSA to help protect against infection. “Although the number of people getting infections from MRSA is falling (latest figures show reductions of 38%), we still have further to go and this is part of our continued efforts to reduce numbers even further,” Johnson explained.

In addition, the government said it has decided to scrap prescription charges for all patients undergoing treatment for cancer, the effects of cancer, or the effects of cancer treatment, in a move which is expected to save each patient about £100 a year. The DH says it estimates the resulting reduction in prescription charge income to be around £15 million per year.