One health check, two locations, no doctor. Who really benefits?

The fact that this free over-40s health check doesn’t involve any actual doctor sends a certain message about how seriously it is taken by the health professionals 


A few weeks ago, I heeded the Health Secretary’s advice and the urging of my GP surgery (which I suspect of having targets to meet), to avail myself of the “free health check” for the over-40s. This new check has come in for much criticism, on the grounds that it will inevitably cater to the “worried well”, such as myself, rather than those who are not worried, but perhaps should be. That’s a fair comment; then again, the tests just might pick up a condition you were unaware of, so even quite a small “hit-rate” could save lives.

My criticisms are different. This health check is inconvenient; it is puny, and it represents a huge missed opportunity. At least in my case, it entailed queuing for a blood test (no eating or drinking beforehand) at a health centre other than my GP surgery, and booking a separate GP appointment for 10 days later to allow time for the results to be transferred. It turned out that the session is actually handled by the practice nurse, who also weighed me and measured me and took my blood pressure. I may be wrong here, but the fact that this health check doesn’t involve any actual doctor, I think, sends a certain message about how seriously it is taken by the health professionals, as we must now call them. 

Also in my case, only the blood tests were an addition to routine GP practice. My weight and blood pressure seem to be checked any time I go to the surgery. So this “free health check” amounted to blood tests for diabetes and cholesterol, and a few gentle questions about lifestyle. Given the growing incidence of heart problems among women, I was surprised there was no ECG. And cancer, of course, is tested for separately, with three-yearly mammograms and smear tests – which take place at different times and, again in my case, at places that are not easy to get to.

How many vested interests, I wonder, would be endangered if the NHS’s “free health check” put all these things together (as its paid-for counterparts do), and produced the results pretty much on the spot? Personally, I would be happy to devote half a day (or an evening?) to a health-check that was worthy of the name and spared me separate trips to distant hospitals. This may be presumption on my part, but I wouldn’t mind betting that many other women would be, too. 

Pssst… I’ll let you into a little secret

I thought the ad agencies had got it out of their system. But no, there’s a new TV advert, for some brand of coffee, which employs the most irritating technique of all time: the stage whisper. The most egregious offender last time around was the travel company, Secret Escapes. Its advert was fronted by a coquettish woman – played by an actress, Camilla Arfwedson – just old enough for professional women with their own money to identify with, who purports to share a terrific secret about luxury hotels offering discounted  rooms. There’s an objectionably selfish and faux-exclusive air about this advert – a  low-grade “because I’m worth it” – that made me determined never to patronise this company, ever. Could it be, though, that the ultimate blame for this whispering fad, rests with David Attenborough, whose encounter with a gorilla in Rwanda prompted him to whisper musings into his microphone for all to hear? This particular stage whisper left its imprint on a generation – including, it seems, alas, its advertisers.

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