Foreword from Professor Kevin Fenton
We’ve been clear since we took on responsibility for the NHS Health Check programme that we are committed to bringing stronger scientific rigour to the programme. I’d like to go into a bit more depth on this subject because the past month has seen some important developments in this area.
Firstly, we held our research and academic symposium – an extremely thought-provoking and stimulating day of debate and discussion. I’d like to thank all those who contributed and hope the NHS Health Check community will find the presentations and outputs from the day useful. As well as these materials, the page now also includes videos of key speakers from the event, which I hope are of particular interest to those who were unable to join us on the day.
The turnout at the event was impressive. We were fortunate to have around 100 academics, local authority commissioners, clinicians and representatives from the voluntary sector. Gatherings such as these, which draw on the varied backgrounds of so many committed professionals, are invaluable in helping us at Public Health England (PHE) to shape the high-quality research and evaluation strategy this programme needs. During the day, we drilled down into some difficult but crucial questions: for example, how best to assess the effectiveness of tools in communicating risk with participants; or how the programme can best meet the needs of disadvantaged groups.
This last point links to another important development in the evolving evidence base for health checks. In June, we saw the publication of an important study, the Inter99 trial. The study contributes significantly to the debate around the value and design of population-based health check programmes. We have always been frank about the challenges of assessing the risks and benefits of a population-level programme like NHS Health Check by extrapolating from an incomplete evidence base. The results from the Inter99 trial make it even more imperative that we have a robust process in place to review the emerging evidence of the programme’s impact.
You can read our perspective on the results of the Inter99 trial here and the reasons why we think it may be difficult to extrapolate from this trial to NHS Health Check. Nonetheless, it’s clear that this new study does raise some questions for us here at NHS Health Check. I think the most important one is whether we need to consider how to target the programme towards higher-risk individuals, adapted to the risk profile and context of local populations, while still ensuring it is offered to all eligible individuals between the ages of 40 and 74. With the creation of our expert scientific and clinical advisory panel (ESCAP), we have a process in place to evaluate the costs, benefits and risks of changing aspects of the NHS Health Check programme.
We know that there’s huge appetite for more research and evidence on NHS Health Check, as shown by the debate stimulated by the Inter99 trial and the findings of our own symposium. We’re committed to meeting this need. Our research and evidence strategy – which we will publish in the coming months – will provide us and our stakeholders with a structure for how we deliver this.