RCPE Press Release

10 March 2011

A leading UK research scientist will today (10 March 2011) present data showing that the Scottish and UK Governments could save “significant resources” by adopting a more targeted approach to screening for the risk of heart disease and diabetes than the increasingly favoured governmental strategies of universal health checks.

Dr Simon Griffin, Assistant Director, Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit, Cambridge, will be speaking at a conference organised by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) and Faculty of Public Health aimed at improving the development of Scottish and UK public health policy and seeking to ensure that such policy is based upon the best available evidence.

Dr Griffin will report the findings of a study which compared the projected impact of the Department of Health’s national screening programme in England and Wales, aimed at identifying the risk of heart disease in all adults aged 40-74, and at an annual cost of £250 million, with more targeted approaches to screening. The study was based on 17,000 men and women aged 40-74 and free from heart disease and diabetes at the time the research was carried out, mirroring the guidelines of the Department of Health’s mass screening policy.

This research has found that a more targeted approach to screening could be equally effective in identifying those at risk based upon models of -

identifying those at highest risk of developing heart disease, on the basis of routinely available data, and inviting them for screening, or increasing the mass screening age from 40 to 50.

In addition to potentially having major implications for UK health policy, this research could also have great significance for Scotland given that the Scottish Government launched a pilot ‘heart MOT’ health check for adults aged 40-74 last month, which is broadly similar to the system of universal screening currently in operation in England and Wales. The pilot will run for four years during which around 20,000 people in Scotland will receive a check up, prior to being evaluated with a view to determining if a policy of mass screening should be rolled out nationally in the future.

During the conference Dr Griffin will also present some new, and previously unpublished, data on screening to identify people at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, further strengthening the case for targeted screening and questioning the value of some population-wide screening programmes.

Dr Simon Griffin, Assistant Director, MRC Epidemiology Unit, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, said,

“In recent years there has been a trend towards introducing mass screening as a preventative measure in a number of areas of health policy that meet specified criteria. Our research has shown that a more targeted approach to screening for risk of heart disease, based upon an evaluation of routinely available clinical data, could be as effective in identifying those at risk as a mass screening programme. As such, this could deliver the same health gains for patients whilst offering the potential to save the NHS significant resources.

“Emerging data in relation to screening to identify those at risk of developing type 2 diabetes is, similarly, showing that targeted screening is as effective, but more cost-effective, than mass screening. It makes sense to target resources where they can have the greatest effect in order to reduce waste, particularly given the uncertainty about the cost-effectiveness of mass screening.”

Dr Neil Dewhurst, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and a Consultant Cardiologist, said,

“Preventing heart disease has to remain one of the top political and clinical priorities throughout Scotland and the rest of UK and screening can play a very valuable role. However, in developing related health policy we have to ensure that this is based upon best evidence and that the approach adopted is the most effective in preventing new cases of heart disease. Given the unprecedented financial pressures which we face at this time, the NHS has a responsibility to ensure that limited resources are used wisely and it is essential that research of this nature is used to inform current and future health policy”.

Contact: Graeme McAlister on 0131-247-3693 or 07733-263453