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United Kingdom to start proactive screening for disease

LONDON – Prime Minister Gordon Brown (pictured) says that healthcare services in the United Kingdom will start screening high-risk members of the public for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease, in a bid to dramatically reduce the numbers of preventable deaths.

In his first major speech on healthcare since becoming Prime Minister, Brown outlined plans for more diagnostic tests in GP surgeries, such as blood tests, electro-cardiograms and ultrasounds to cut waiting times. He said he wanted a more “personalized” NHS with a bigger focus on prevention.

Brown said: “There are 200,000 deaths a year from heart and stroke disease. Many of them, indeed probably most of them, avoidable if we did the right things.”

He said additional screening should soon be added, for breast cancer for women, preventative vaccines against cervical cancer and “far more” being done in relation to aneurysms.

“The whole nature of this is that the health service has really got to change in its next 60 years from being the curative service – where it’s done so much good – to being also a preventative service and one that’s not simply a uniform service, but personal to people’s needs,” said Brown.

“So you get to see the doctor you want at the time you want and the hospital you want, but also a health service organized around your needs and at the same time, of course, the preventative work.”

Initially the tests will be available to the most “vulnerable”, and money has been set aside to pay for the procedures in the health budget for 2008-11, said Brown. He said the government planned to use advertising to “persuade people” to take the tests.

In his speech, Brown said: “The next stage is offering men over 65 a simple ultrasound test to detect early abdominal aortic aneurysm... the weakening of the main artery from heart to abdomen which kills over 3,000 men a year – and this will eventually save more than 1,600 lives each year.”

He said Health Secretary Alan Johnson would set up plans to introduce a series of tests to identify vulnerability to heart and circulation problems. Vascular screening, to be introduced this year or early in 2009, would include a series of blood, fat and sugar tests in GP surgeries.

The prime minister said “renewal” of the NHS would be the government’s highest priority, adding that the aim was “deeper and wider reform” to create an NHS “that is here for all of us but personal to each of us”.

And he said patients could be given taxpayers’ money to choose their own health care, by committing himself to the principle of “personal health budgets”.

Government officials said it was initially only likely to cover patients suffering from long-term conditions – to allow them to choose the right treatment for them.

Dr. Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the GPs committee at the British Medical Association, said: “What I do find extraordinary is just two or three weeks ago the prime minister insisted that funding be taken away from the treatment of patients with heart failure, hardening of the arteries and kidney disease – the very conditions that he’s now proposing to screen for.”