Letters Value of periodic health checks

Many private screening tests have no known benefit

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e8365 (Published 20 December 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8365
  1. Ferruccio De Lorenzo, consultant physician1
  1. 1Lipid Disorders and CVD Prevention Clinic, Hammersmith Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  1. fdlx{at}btinternet.com

The UK National Screening Committee (UK-NSC), the BMA, and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges have recently expressed concern about the potential harms of healthcare screening.1 2 Many direct-to-consumer tests are unreliable and inaccurate, and it is impossible for people to distinguish between those that may be useful and those that have no value or may even be harmful. The UK-NSC recommends that NHS professionals should offer screening only if there is evidence that, overall, the benefits of screening outweigh the potential harms.3 4 Thus, screening should not be offered in the absence of known evidence.

Healthcare companies, including BMI Healthcare, BUPA, and Nuffield Healthcare, were found to offer screening tests with no known benefits. This caused unnecessary worry to patients, resulted in higher insurance premiums, produced inadequate information, and increased the number of referrals to NHS GPs.5 These conclusions were expressed by an expert panel (including members of the UK-NSC) that assessed the findings and reports of screening programmes offered by the above named companies.

The health screening market was assessed to be worth around £100m (€124m; $160m) in 2009 (data from Laing and Buisson; P Wiseman, personal communication, 2011). Clearly, there is a consolidated interest in protecting the “status quo” of the screening industry.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8365


  • Competing interests: None declared.