Concerns that screening people who are well could make it more difficult for sick patients to get a GP practice appointment are voiced today by the British Medical Association. Commenting on the government announcement that everyone between the ages of 40 and 74 will be entitled to vascular screening, Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA's GP Committee said:
"While we would like to welcome this, as prevention is undoubtedly better than cure, we have serious concerns about the pressure this will put on an already overstretched general practice. Over a third of the population fall into this age range which for an average practice means two thousand patients. It could work out at 40 extra appointments a week - and that's if they only need one appointment. If the process means they need two or three appointments, to ultimately be told they are fit and healthy, then you're looking at doubling or tripling that number. Whether it is nurses, GPs, healthcare assistants or pharmacists who do these checks, there is not currently the workforce, the time in the day, or even the space in our surgeries to carry out this number of consultations. At the moment all our appointments are booked up with patients who are in immediate need of medical care.
"General practices already undertake health assessments for new patients covering things such as height, weight, blood pressure and urine testing. Those patients who are at risk regularly have their vascular risk factors checked including their cholesterol."
Dr Buckman questions the lack of scientific evidence behind the government screening plans. He adds:
"To justify healthcare spending on this scale there would need to be very clear evidence that this is both cost and clinically effective. There have been no pilot schemes and the models the government is using are theoretical. Inevitably large sale screening will impact on access to services for sick patients."