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Saturday 26th May 2018

No quick fix in Brown's NHS vision

13th January 2008

Richard Horton warns that Gordon Brown’s new health screening programmes are no quick fix.


Gordon Brown’s plan to launch the world’s first national health screening programme is impressive and timed perfectly to assuage our post-Christmas guilt.

It also aims to save 200,000 lives each year but will it succeed?

The idea of screening men aged 65 for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) – which has a high risk of death in the event of a rupture - is smart. It also makes sense to screen for cholesterol, diabetes and blood pressure – all conditions doctors consistently under-treat.

But Brown’s latest prescription for Britain’s health will not deliver the quick fix he hopes for. A national screening programme will require another massive reconfiguration of services to have any lasting impact.

AAA screening units, for example, should cover around 800,000 people, meaning 60 for England alone, each needing specialist surgeons, a skilled team of ultrasonographers and administrative staff.

This strategy signals a new emphasis on prevention rather than cure but the word prevention suggests that costly treatments will not be needed. Not true. The AAA example shows prevention demands many more resources, not fewer.

In today’s world of high-tech diagnosis and risk-factor modification, prevention often is cure - and both come at a considerable financial and organisational cost.

With maternity, newborn, child, elderly care and mental health services stretched to the point of failing in the NHS, we have to ask: shouldn’t we fix the problems in the NHS we already know about before we take on new challenges?


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