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Written Statement - Health Checks for people aged over 50

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Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Health and Social Services

This statement updates Members on progress towards delivering our commitment to introduce a programme of health checks for people aged over 50. It details my recent decision about the overall approach for the programme and the main areas of work which will be developed over the coming year.

The health checks programme is consistent with the strategic direction I set out in Together for Health. In particular, the programme aims to support and empower people aged over 50 to have greater control over their own health and wellbeing. It will support the important concept of ‘ageing well’ and help to improve people’s access to high quality health information, advice and services.

Whilst spending on the NHS is very important, providing good quality services when people are ill is only part of the solution to good health. We must also do all we can to prevent avoidable poor health occurring in the first place. The scale of the challenge we face is very clear.  For example, we know only 6% of adults in Wales currently follow advice in relation to all of our four lifestyle priorities:- maintaining a sensible diet, not smoking, drinking sensibly and taking regular exercise. These are missed opportunities to lower the risks for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and cancer, all of which have a significant impact on people’s lives and those of their families and friends, as well as our health services.  

As a result of our work over the past year, I have decided our health checks programme will take an innovative and holistic approach. This will take full advantage of the opportunities offered by developing technology as well as provide local community-based support.  It will provide a modern gateway to prevention and health information services in Wales, which can help individuals aged over 50 to make choices to support better health and wellbeing.
The development of the health checks programme will be led by Public Health Wales. They will take forward and coordinate the different areas of work, select and quality-assure content and continue to engage key stakeholders. I anticipate the programme will then be introduced over a three year period starting from the end of 2013.

I am keen to ensure services we develop in Wales use 21st Century thinking and fit the way people live their everyday lives. The health checks programme is an excellent opportunity to do precisely this. I have, therefore, decided it will be delivered primarily through an online service, which will offer people high quality advice on a range of health and social issues which can be personally tailored to their own circumstances, as well as improve access to the most effective national and local prevention services. This service will be developed as an integral part of the NHS information services in Wales to ensure it is fully linked up with other parts of the system.

Increasingly, people are using online methods to access services at a time and place which suits them best. Many people now think little of managing parts of their lives in this way, from banking services to buying goods over the internet. The same approach can be used for helping us manage our health. Technology can give quick, easy access to reliable, up-to-date advice on health problems, interventions and services. A new online health checks service will give people information on health issues and looking after their own health and wellbeing, on services which may help in this and guide them, where necessary, to the right professional support using a simplified process.

In developing this overall approach, my officials have considered a number of factors, including models used elsewhere, the views of stakeholders and the research evidence. The latter has raised questions about the real value of universal ‘health checks’ based solely on a medical model and helped us design an approach which allows Wales to test something new. This will make it easier to get information and advice as well as access evidence-based interventions such as smoking cessation services.

I am, of course, aware not everyone will be able to access services online. Whilst an increasing proportion of people over 50 will be using them, not all will.  I have therefore decided to put in place alternative ways of accessing the health check, with extra support within community settings. My officials and Public Health Wales will develop these, working closely with different networks and partners to ensure maximum participation from across the full range of our communities. This work will continue during the remainder of the preparatory phase to explore how best to meet the needs of different groups, informed by stakeholders and the potential users themselves.  I will provide further details about these forms of support as the programme develops.

In addition to developing the new online arrangements and community support, I will also institute action to raise awareness about this programme before it is introduced and to encourage people to engage with it. This will help us ensure as many people as possible benefit from the programme. A communications plan will be put in place so people will know what the service offers and how to use it.

It is crucially important for us to be able to test this programme effectively and measure its impact over time, particularly as we are taking an innovative approach. Evaluation will be built in to the programme from an early stage. Over the longer term I will then be able to consider any potential for further development based on robust evaluation findings.

I would stress the development of this programme will not in any way affect people’s access to other services. The General Practice team will continue to provide a lead role as the main source of advice and management for identified health problems or concerns, including routine check ups for chronic conditions. Community pharmacists will offer regular public health campaigns to raise awareness of key health issues. The health checks programme is intended to build on existing provision and to complement rather than replace or duplicate it. Health professionals and other partners will have an important role in raising public awareness of the programme and encouraging people to use it. Outside of the main health checks programme, other important work is also being taken forward to continue to improve core services. We will explore how best to ensure seamless connection between care services and health checks where appropriate.

I have set aside funding of approximately £740k in the 2013-14 financial year to support the development of this programme. This will support work in a number of areas, including developing the online service and preparatory work for the community support, as well as early testing, evaluation and promotional work.

I look forward to seeing this exciting programme continue to develop and am confident it will provide important new opportunities for people aged over 50 in Wales to gain greater control over their own health and wellbeing.

I will ensure Members are kept informed of progress over the coming year.