The current and potential health benefits of the National Health Service Health Check cardiovascular disease prevention programme in England: A microsimulation study
The National Health Service (NHS) Health Check programme was introduced in 2009 in England to systematically assess all adults in midlife for cardiovascular disease risk factors. However, its current benefit and impact on health inequalities are unknown. It is also unclear whether feasible changes in how it is delivered could result in increased benefits. It is one of the first such programmes in the world. We sought to estimate the health benefits and effect on inequalities of the current NHS Health Check programme and the impact of making feasible changes to its implementation.
Methods and findings
We developed a microsimulation model to estimate the health benefits (incident ischaemic heart disease, stroke, dementia, and lung cancer) of the NHS Health Check programme in England. We simulated a population of adults in England aged 40–45 years and followed until age 100 years, using data from the Health Survey of England (2009–2012) and the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (1998–2012), to simulate changes in risk factors for simulated individuals over time. We used recent programme data to describe uptake of NHS Health Checks and of 4 associated interventions (statin medication, antihypertensive medication, smoking cessation, and weight management). Estimates of treatment efficacy and adherence were based on trial data. We estimated the benefits of the current NHS Health Check programme compared to a healthcare system without systematic health checks. This counterfactual scenario models the detection and treatment of risk factors that occur within ‘routine’ primary care. We also explored the impact of making feasible changes to implementation of the programme concerning eligibility, uptake of NHS Health Checks, and uptake of treatments offered through the programme. We estimate that the NHS Health Check programme prevents 390 (95% credible interval 290 to 500) premature deaths before 80 years of age and results in an additional 1,370 (95% credible interval 1,100 to 1,690) people being free of disease (ischaemic heart disease, stroke, dementia, and lung cancer) at age 80 years per million people aged 40–45 years at baseline. Over the life of the cohort (i.e., followed from 40–45 years to 100 years), the changes result in an additional 10,000 (95% credible interval 8,200 to 13,000) quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) and an additional 9,000 (6,900 to 11,300) years of life. This equates to approximately 300 fewer premature deaths and 1,000 more people living free of these diseases each year in England. We estimate that the current programme is increasing QALYs by 3.8 days (95% credible interval 3.0–4.7) per head of population and increasing survival by 3.3 days (2.5–4.1) per head of population over the 60 years of follow-up. The current programme has a greater absolute impact on health for those living in the most deprived areas compared to those living in the least deprived areas (4.4 [2.7–6.5] days of additional quality-adjusted life per head of population versus 2.8 [1.7–4.0] days; 5.1 [3.4–7.1] additional days lived per head of population versus 3.3 [2.1–4.5] days). Making feasible changes to the delivery of the existing programme could result in a sizable increase in the benefit. For example, a strategy that combines extending eligibility to those with preexisting hypertension, extending the upper age of eligibility to 79 years, increasing uptake of health checks by 30%, and increasing treatment rates 2.5-fold amongst eligible patients (i.e., ‘maximum potential’ scenario) results in at least a 3-fold increase in benefits compared to the current programme (1,360 premature deaths versus 390; 5,100 people free of 1 of the 4 diseases versus 1,370; 37,000 additional QALYs versus 10,000; 33,000 additional years of life versus 9,000). Ensuring those who are assessed and eligible for statins receive statins is a particularly important strategy to increase benefits. Estimates of overall benefit are based on current incidence and management, and future declines in disease incidence or improvements in treatment could alter the actual benefits observed in the long run. We have focused on the cardiovascular element of the NHS Health Check programme. Some important noncardiovascular health outcomes (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] prevention from smoking cessation and cancer prevention from weight loss) and other parts of the programme (e.g., brief interventions to reduce harmful alcohol consumption) have not been modelled.
Our model indicates that the current NHS Health Check programme is contributing to improvements in health and reducing health inequalities. Feasible changes in the organisation of the programme could result in more than a 3-fold increase in health benefits.