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Health checks for over-40s are quietly dropped

HEALTH check-ups intended to save lives by catching problems early have been scrapped on the quiet by the Scottish Government.

scrutiny Scottish ministers face questioning over the costs of the shelved universal health check initiative.
scrutiny Scottish ministers face questioning over the costs of the shelved universal health check initiative.

Little more than two years after Public Health Minister Shona Robison announced that everyone would be entitled to a health assessment on turning 40, the system has been shelved.

News of this decision has emerged only after queries were made by The Herald.

Now ministers are facing questions in Holyrood about what happened to the check-ups that were a manifesto commitment and part of a £15 million plan to do more to prevent ill health.

Dr Jean Turner, executive director of the Scotland Patients Association, criticised the government for selling something to the public then "sneakily" taking it away.

She said: "This is a dilution of a standard of care that they were selling to the public to keep them healthy. We have to work on all fronts to keep the population healthy."

The SNP's election manifesto in 2007 said that all men and women would be given a "life begins" health check at their GP surgery on reaching 40 and receive individualised health plans based on the findings.

After more than three years in government, Ms Robison, who was recently promoted to a cabinet post, declared the "Life Begins at 40" programme was being rolled out nationwide, although it required patients to fill in a questionnaire over the phone or online rather than visit their GP practice.

Around 74,000 Scots were expected to receive a letter inviting them to take part in the first year.

Neil Findlay, Scottish Labour's health spokesman, said: "It's utterly ridiculous that despite pledging to introduce the scheme in both 2007 and 2011 they scrap it before even a pilot project could be completed.

"What's worse is that they didn't consider it important enough to tell people they were doing so.

"I plan to lodge a series of Parliamentary Questions to uncover how much public money has been wasted on this failed initiative and why after years of campaigning for it they decided it was no longer worth their effort."

GPs were against the scheme from the start, declaring the projected annual cost of £285,000 a waste of money and revealing a trial in Grampian had found just 10% of patients used the service.

However, it was defended by then Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon and NHS 24, who were overseeing the scheme, describing it as an innovative service.

Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chair of the British Medical Association's Scottish General Practitioners Committee, said: "There is little evidence to suggest that general health checks actually improve the health of patients. GPs already provide comprehensive care to patients with chronic illness, creating individual care plans to help manage their conditions.

"GPs did not welcome or support this programme when it was launched. We would have much rather seen more effort put into targeting particular groups of adults, such as men living in deprived or disadvantaged communities, who are reluctant to go to their doctor and are at increased risk of developing chronic disease."

Dr Turner said she wished there were more GPs and community health staff to enable surgeries to do more to prevent ill health.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "An evaluation of the Life Begins at 40 programme found it would provide greater value in conjunction with other sources of information on health and wellbeing and it was discontinued last year.

"The Scottish Government is now working with NHS 24 to integrate Life Begins at 40 with the Healthy Working Lives website. This new, single source of information and advice will include details of how to promote health and wellbeing in the workplace as well as return-to-work advice."

He added that a new web-based service, incorporating the Life Begins at 40 website, is expected to launch next year.

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