Clinical Cardiac Physiologist Patrick Phillips on how a private health screening can tell you everything you need to know


Patrick - Credit: Archant

Do you ever wonder what’s going on inside your body? A private health screening can tell you everything you need to know but is it really worth the cost? Laura Lewis investigates

We all hope that our bodies are working well and that we’re topped up with all the right vitamins and minerals but how can we know for sure?

If you search for ‘private health screening’ online, you will be bombarded with results not only for private hospitals, but clinics and even online booking services where you can arrange to have your blood samples taken and sent off. When it comes to our health, can we risk leaving our precious results in the wrong hands, and are they worth the paper they arrive on?

The tests involved can vary from a simple blood test, to scanning the body and monitoring the heart.

I spoke with Clinical Cardiac Physiologist Patrick Phillips and firstly, I asked him, what are private life scans all about?

“Private life scans are aimed at people who have reason to believe they may be at risk of heart disease, diabetes or liver disease. These patients should be reviewed in a clinic by a doctor who will clearly be able to identify any immediate underlying issues that could result in one of these conditions later on in life including obesity, strong family history or symptoms that suggest onset of one of these diseases.”

So the idea behind them is that prevention is better than cure?

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“It certainly appears that the plans are aimed at prevention more than treatment. The results, which when explained by the clinician, may highlight potential risk factors that may affect the patient’s life later on.”

We can never know for sure what the future holds, health wise, but being able to take steps to improve or resolve problems now make a lot of sense. The idea of sending a simple blood sample off to a company may seem quick and easy but is it really wise?

“Regarding ordering blood tests online; I feel this is a poor approach to clinical management. There is a risk the blood results posted back to you are not actually your results, which could be life changing! I feel if a patient has a clinical manifestation they should see their GP, who will accurately direct their care, be it blood tests or consultant referral. Sending your blood away in the post and awaiting a set of results is just asking for trouble.”

Blood tests are often a GP’s ‘go to’ test when looking for deficiencies and general bodily functions, but what else can they tell us? Can they detect cancers?

“The limitations of full blood screening depend on what tests are requested. If you consider the online services, which may offer a complete test, such as a full blood count, liver and kidney function and tumour markers. Bear in mind that these tests would need a qualified clinician to explain the results. I think it unethical to post someone’s blood results from an online company to a patient who may be unaware of underlying conditions such as cancers, which can be detected.” Heart problems can strike when least expected, so are coronary assessments worth a try?

“These assessments are aimed at people who may have a strong family history or be at high risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) through obesity or smoking. The tests that are arranged are focused on picking up suggestion that the patient may have signs of disease that haven’t yet been displayed. This would apply in the NHS. However, patients are not sent for a CT routinely to rule out coronary disease. GPs can, and frequently do refer patients who show signs of CAD to the Cardiology team. The service also offers education in how to prevent the disease from occurring or worsening, but again this has been performed expertly by GP’s for many years.”


Patrick’s advice

Talk to your GP first about your health issues – they will provide a balanced and professional opinion.

If you decide to go for a private assessment, ensure you book with a reputable company – don’t just go for the cheapest, online resource.

Check out which clinics your GP already offers, like Well Man and Well Woman, LifeCheck and Health Check and diabetes clinics.

Ensure you are up to date with any cancer screenings you are eligible for.


Did you know?

Women aged 50 and over are called for routine mammograms until the age of 70. By 2016 this age range will increase to cover ages 47 to 73 but if you don’t fall into this category, don’t worry – you can always ask for a referral to a breast clinic if you are concerned about changes to your breast.

Cervical cancer screenings start with smear tests invitations at the age of 25 and you can expect three or five yearly checks up to the age of 65.

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme offers screening every two years to all men and women aged 60 to 69. People over 70 can request a screening kit by calling the freephone helpline on 0800 707 6060.

There are currently no screening programmes for Ovarian or Prostate Cancer but if you are concerned, educate yourself and have an informed chat with your GP when you next visit.


On the NHS

As well as opting for a private health screening with companies such as BUPA, you can ask your GP for a free Health Check, which is a face-to-face assessment with a healthcare professional. The check is for adults between 40 and 74. It will assess your risk of important vascular diseases, and then provide tailored advice and support to help you lower or manage this risk. You’ll be asked some simple questions about your family history, whether or not you smoke and how much alcohol you drink. Your height, weight, sex, ethnicity and age will be recorded and your blood pressure will be taken. A simple blood test will check your cholesterol level and your body mass index (BMI) will be calculated. BMI is a measure of whether you’re a healthy weight for your height.

NHS LifeCheck is an online interactive tool that can help people aged 12 and above to take steps towards a healthier lifestyle. Users of the tool are asked for a few key pieces of information, including their gender, height and weight. The LifeCheck tool uses this information to direct users to useful information and advice on a range of key health issues, including weight, smoking, alcohol consumption and mental health.

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