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The team does not and cannot offer clinical advice. If you have any urgent medical enquiries we urge you to contact your GP, or NHS Direct at www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk or by calling 0845 4647. In an emergency call 999

Cllr Steve Bedser from Birmingham City Council comments on the NHS Health Check programme in this month’s LGA First magazine.

When it was introduced in April 2009, the NHS health check programme was largely welcomed by public health experts.

Who could oppose an initiative to tackle heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease by offering everyone aged 40-74 a free NHS health check every five years?

Three-and-a-half years later, critics say it has failed to close health inequalities. Furthermore, a report in the British Medical Journal recently claimed it is the ‘worried well' who receive checks, meaning money is spent on reassuring these people rather than reaching those who would benefit from addressing lifestyle risk factors such as smoking, obesity, inactivity and identifying those with undiagnosed conditions.

But the real problem is in the delivery and, in some cases, the failure to deliver the programme. Evidence suggests that medium or high-risk individuals are less likely to be regular users of health services, so using primary care alone to drive the programme is not enough. Instead, we should be taking the initiative to communities and individuals most at risk. That's what we've done in Birmingham and the figures suggest the approach is proving a success.

Birmingham has higher than average smoking and obesity rates, residents have poorer diets, exercise less and consume more harmful levels of alcohol than other parts of the UK. In addition, evidence suggests the uptake of population-based screening programmes is lower among socio-economically deprived and ethnic minority groups.

So, rather than relying solely on primary care, we target our most at-risk groups. We've commissioned services through GPs, pharmacists and alternative providers who specialise in working with vulnerable and high-risk groups. And the results? In the first three years of the programme, 149,576 residents were invited to attend a health check and 105,482 did so.

As a result, around 7,500 people were identified as having conditions like diabetes and hypertension, while all those attending received lifestyle advice. It would be wrong to say that health inequalities have been eradicated in Birmingham but the figures speak for themselves. From April 2013, local authorities will be responsible for commissioning this service, so I urge you to ensure that it is working well in your area and ensure it delivers everything it can for residents who need it most.

Cllr Steve Bedser (Lab) is Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing at Birmingham City Council

View the latest online version of First Magazine here.

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The team does not and cannot offer clinical advice. If you have any urgent medical enquiries we urge you to contact your GP, or NHS Direct at www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk or by calling 0845 4647. In an emergency call 999