ANNE HARTWELL is a firm believer in health screening. 'It saved my life,' she states simply.

A widow of 75, who worked as an accountant before retiring, Mrs Hartwell went to The Exeter Nuffield Hospital in early December for a full health check. She had become increasingly short of breath over the previous 18 months, making going upstairs or walking any distance difficult. She also experienced occasional palpitations and noises in her head which sounded like her 'heart swishing'.

The doctor doing the tests was concerned about Mrs Hartwell's heart rate and ECG (Electro Cardio Graph) and decided to refer her immediately for emergency treatment at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital in Wonford. The ECG showed second degree heart block which was potentially life-threatening.

Mrs Hartwell was fitted with a temporary pacemaker the day after her health screening. It was replaced by a permanent one later. The screening also showed up a mild urine infection, an elevated platelet count and an ill-defined mass in the right breast, revealed through a mammograph. Mrs Hartwell was advised to follow up the first two with her GP and the hospital doctors found the breast mass to be innocuous. The pounds 310 cost of the screening was money well spent, according to Mrs Hartwell.

Nuffield Hospitals, the UK's largest private hospital group, is vigorously promoting its health screening service. It has 32 centres nationwide used predominantly by companies for their staff.

Stephen Spencer, group health screening manager, says: 'Many companies spend more money maintaining an employee's car than ensuring the wellbeing of that same employee's body.' He added that there was growing recognition that health screening was a low cost way to add to existing employee benefits and was a perk which benefited both the employee and employer.

Some 360 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to illness, according to the Confederation of British Industry. Heart and circulatory diseases alone cost industry around pounds 200 per employee. Health screening helps early detection and quicker and successful treatment, according to Nuffield Hospitals.

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