NHS health check could create 10-year map of major health risks, research finds

NHS checks
NHS checks - sturti/iStockphoto

The NHS health MOT could tell over 40s their personal risk of dementia and other diseases, research has found.

The University of Oxford study of more than 220,000 adults found that the kind of information already collected in mid-life checks could be used to give patients an estimate of their chance of multiple conditions.

Currently, all patients are invited by GPs to undergo health checks every five years from the age of 40.

These normally involve taking blood pressure, weight, family history and details of diet and lifestyle, with further tests such as cholesterol when risks are raised.

Researchers said that the information routinely gathered is sufficient to give patients estimates of their 10-year chance of developing a range of diseases, with an accuracy of at least 70 per cent.

The current system focuses on cardiovascular risk, with patients recommended statins if their chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke is estimated to be elevated.

The new study published in BMJ Evidence-based Medicine found that it was possible to accurately assess the risk of a host of diseases.

The discriminative accuracy of risk scores produced was 82 per cent for dementia, 79 per cent for heart attacks, 73 per cent for stroke and 77 per cent for chronic kidney disease and fatty liver disease.

An accuracy rate of 86 per cent for alcoholic liver disease, 76 per cent for liver cirrhosis and 75 per cent for liver failure were achieved.

Researchers said the rollout of a “single integrated health check” which gives patients a number of scores could ensure earlier medical intervention to cut the risks of deadly diseases.

Scientists said that as well as ensuring illnesses were spotted sooner, the approach could reduce pressure on GPs, by ensuring resources were better targeted.

For the study, academics from the University of Oxford analysed data from 228,240 adults from the UK Biobank.

Celeste McCracken, of the University of Oxford’s Radcliffe Department of Medicine and lead author of the study, said: “Our findings suggest that primary care providers could use a single set of easily collected information to simultaneously generate multiple disease risk scores.

“This could significantly streamline the process, potentially improving early disease detection and prevention efforts.”

She said risk estimates could be made using information which is already routinely gathered.

The researcher said: “We understand the NHS is resource-constrained, and this could have huge implications for people in hard-to-reach places.”

Additional information

Researchers said that giving people additional information about their risks could help to motivate changes in their health behaviour, and making lifestyle changes to diet or exercise, or quitting smoking.

The study also found that the use of information which is not always included in standard risk assessments – such as mental health, sleep quality, and medication use - made a significant difference.

The assessment could be carried out “without the need for specialist computing or invasive biomarkers”, researchers said.

They added: “Such an approach could increase the utility of existing data and place multi-organ risk information at the fingertips of primary care providers, thus creating opportunities for longer term multi-morbidity prevention.”

The study was supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).

It follows calls from campaigners for women to be offered a “menopause health check” by GPs The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Menopause said the NHS should incorporate questions about symptoms into midlife MOTs already provided by family doctors.

A survey of 2,000 menopausal women found just 12 per cent were diagnosed by a health professional.