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Revealed: The health site for over-40s that cost £50 a visit

ALMOST £700,000 of the Scottish Government's health budget was spent on a website that lasted little more than two years because it was so unpopular.

Dr Alan McDevitt: Says the website was a political promise.
Dr Alan McDevitt: Says the website was a political promise.

The Life Begins @ 40 site, which supposedly delivered on the SNP's manifesto pledge to offer health checks to people turning 40, effectively cost almost £50 for every new recorded visitor.

For this, each individual could have had a consultation with a GP in person - one recent study priced a routine appointment at £45.

An official evaluation of the service shows 40-year-olds found the online questionnaire which was supposed to help them lead a healthier life told them "very little, if anything, that they did not already know".

One user described it as "tremendously patronising". He said: "Can you imagine saying (to someone), 'so do you smoke any tobacco products?' 'No'. 'That's great, by not smoking you are already protecting your health for the future.'"

Concern was expressed that telling people they were "OVERWEIGHT" in capital letters and putting sad emoticons at the end of sections where people admitted to unhealthy habits could leave them demotivated or "despondent". According to the analysis, conducted by Ipsos MORI, just eight per cent of 40-year-olds invited to fill in the web questionnaire logged onto the website and of these 52 per cent did not complete the form.

However, some users did suggest the survey, launched nationwide in February 2011, made differences to their behaviour.

One said: "I think the main thing was it made turning 40 into a starting point for taking my health seriously."

Questions lodged in the Scottish Parliament by Neil Findlay, health spokesman for Scottish Labour, revealed the project cost £670,000.

They also showed Health Secretary Alex Neil decided the site should discontinue in January 2013. His decision was only exposed when The Herald investigated in May this year.

Mr Findlay said: "The Life Begins at 40 project was supposed to improve the health and well being of people across Scotland yet we now find out it was nothing more than a very expensive and poorly used website. No wonder it was stopped."

Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of the British Medical Association's Scottish GP Committee, said: "The 'Life begins @ 40' programme was a political promise that was not based on any clinical evidence. GPs did not welcome nor support this programme when it was launched as there is little evidence to suggest that general health checks would actually improve the health of patients. It did not deliver value for money in an already stretched NHS."

The number of Life Begins @ 40 website users recorded by the Scottish Government is 13,779. If the £670,000 bill is divided by user it equates to £48 per person. The Scottish Government said calculating costs per user was misleading as the bulk of costs were set-up costs.

NHS 24, which oversaw the project, confirmed all the money allocated for it had been spent.

Professor George Crooks, NHS 24 medical director, said: "In early 2013, evaluation showed it had not been as well used as hoped and a decision was taken to close the service and use the learning from the project to develop broader health and wellbeing information as part of NHS inform, which is currently in progress."

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

He said the government is now working with NHS24 to use the lessons to inform the development of a new web-based resource for working-age people.

"This will create a single source, providing information and advice to aid recovery from ill health and to promote health and wellbeing," he said.

Another £50-75,000 has been allocated for this development.

Contextual targeting label: 
Health

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