Health boards around the country are reportedly turning to increasingly inventive and expensive ways of encouraging healthier behaviour in patients, with new incentive schemes being piloted for quitting smoking and testing for Chlamydia.

According to the Sunday Times, NHS Fife is offering patients who give up smoking for three months the chance to take part in a lottery which offers the chance to win helicopter rides, overnight stays in a luxury hotel or iPods, under a pilot scheme designed to assess whether such incentives could help people kick the habit.

Other such programmes, details of which were obtained by the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act, include prize draws by NHS Northamptonshire and Camden Primary Care Trust for people who agree to get tested for the sexually transmitted disease Chlamydia, in which Nintendo Wii games consoles and laptops are up for grabs.

The moves are designed to address some of the country’s most urgent health problems. More than 100,000 people die every year from smoking related diseases, which represent a huge financial strain on the health service, and thousands of teenagers are unknowingly contracting Chlamydia each year which, if left untreated, can cause infertility.

Wrong messages?
However, Mary Scanlon, spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives party, told The Sunday Times that incentive schemes in which the rewards bear no relation to health could give out the wrong messages. “Giving people free passes to gyms is an excellent idea, but in the depths of a recession when people are losing their jobs, seeing people being given these sorts of gifts will lead to resentment," she stressed.

The idea of offering people some kind of carrot to induce healthier behaviour has been around for some time and is growing in popularity, particularly as the NHS shifts its focus onto disease prevention as opposed to cure. However, while early indications are that such methods can be effective as part of a wider programme, a report published by Health England last month concluded that more research is needed in order to assess their wider implications.