Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has called for a wider roll out of NHS Health Checks in order to save 650 lives a year in England.

The call comes on the back of a Public Health England (PHE) review that an extended vascular screening programme for people aged 40-74 could prevent 1,600 heart attacks and 4,000 cases of diabetes a year.

PHE, which took charge of the NHS Health Check programme in April, has come up with a ten-point plan to help councils roll them out to 20% of their eligible local population a year so that, by 2018/19, 15 million people will be participating in the scheme.

"We must do more to increase uptake and referral to appropriate risk management services, particularly in those communities at greatest risk, to remove blocks in processes that get in the way and make sure the programme is of consistent high quality across the country," said Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing for PHE.

However, speaking to PharmaTimes, a spokesperson for the British Medical Association said that, while health checks when undertaken can provide a real benefit to patients, "any substantial expansion to the programme will need to take into account current work pressures and the fact that we are in a period of financial restraint". 

An expanded Health Checks programme "will need to be adequately resourced and appropriately planned," he stressed. 

It is estimated that savings to the NHS budget nationally are around £57 million over four years, rising to £176 million over a fifteen-year period. The programme will pay for itself after 20 years as well as having delivered substantial health benefits, the Department of Health notes.

Medical charities Diabetes UK, the British Liver Trust and HEART UK have joined forces to publicly back the programme and support the steps outlined in the PHE's plan to boost its uptake.

The charities had previously raised concerns about its inconsistent implementation, after finding that in some areas it was hardly being offered to anyone.