Basic check-ups which diagnose people at risk of heart attacks and strokes early on could become even more accessible and convenient if they were rolled out across leisure centres.
It is the premise of the last year of work that senior lecturer in Preventative Medicine at The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), Simon Alford, has been beavering away at.
Mr Alford also thinks the new qulification he has developed – a Certificate of Competency in Health Checks Assessments to be undertaken by non-medical staff at leisure centres – could lighten the load on over stretched GP surgeries.
He wants to see leisure centre staff reach out to groups of people who might not feel comfortable accessing the same service at a GP clinic.
“There are groups within communities which do not regularly, if at all, engage with their local NHS services or visit their GP,” says Mr Alford.
“Some GP surgeries simply don’t have the resources or time to enable enough people to have these important health checks.
“This is worrying because it means there’s many people with conditions which aren’t being detected and therefore treated.
“If there were more places within local communities where people could feel comfortable going, including places they regularly visit such as supermarkets and leisure centres, then this would hopefully increase the amount of people who engage, meaning early detection or prevention of conditions.”
Mr Alford hopes that the new qualification he has developed will see leisure centre staff trained to undertake basic preventative health check-ups.
These would, in turn, help to identify the early signs of conditions including high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes and dementia.
“The tests themselves are not rocket science,” says Mr Alford. “The science comes in interpreting the results.
“For a respiratory test blow into a tube for instance or to check on cholesterol levels prick a finger.”
The Certificate of Competency in Health Checks Assessments qualification will provide training for leisure industry staff to equip them with the skills and knowledge required to complete preventative health checks on members of the public, as part of the NHS Health Check Programme.
Health checks, designed specifically for people aged between 40-years-old and 74, were introduced by the Secretary of State for Health in 2008. They are are normally carried out by GPs.
However only 50 per cent of people eligible actually undergo the checks, which are offered every five years.
Now the NHS is calling for them to be carried out in non-clinical environments, such as supermarkets and football grounds.
Mr Alford’s qualification, to allow staff in non-medical environments to take on some of the health checks, is designed to ensure that the right standards are upheld across the board.
“Clinicians and GPs will be delivering the training so how to take somebody’s height and weight, for example,” says Mr Alford, who hopes to have the training in place at UCLan by the New Year. “We just need to have some sort of standard and with annual training we will make sure that the standards are maintained.”
In practice the leisure providers would bid to deliver the 40-74 year-old health check, which is currently commissioned by local authority public health teams.
It is anticipated that through delievering the service they would be well-placed to provide a wide range of exercise and life-style advice.
Mr Alford says: “Sixty-five per cent of people generally just need lifestyle advice. Of course if a patient’s blood pressure is through the roof they will tell the patient to go to a GP for future check-ups on issues but that proportion of people is understood to be quite low in the grand scheme.”