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YOUR health is in your hands.

That’s the message to thousands of people across the Portsmouth area as part of a campaign which could save lives and money for the cash-strapped NHS.

Jamie O'Reilly having his free health check by Nicola Burns, pharmacy technician at Lalys Pharmacy in Portsmouth. ''Picture: Sarah Standing (143380-8996)

Jamie O'Reilly having his free health check by Nicola Burns, pharmacy technician at Lalys Pharmacy in Portsmouth. ''Picture: Sarah Standing (143380-8996)

The NHS Health Check was introduced in 2009 to offer a free test to people aged between 40 to 74, who do not have any known medical problems.

But today The News can reveal that thousands of people have ignored their invitation for a check.

Portsmouth is the fifth worst in the country for people taking up the offer, with just 30 per cent of those invited taking the test – well below the national average of 70 per cent.

Nationally 45 per cent of people being invited are getting checked, but in Hampshire this figure is 40 per cent.

The test involves taking a person’s height and weight, blood pressure, checking cholesterol levels and asking lifestyle questions. If these factors are measured early and there are any problems, then advice on lifestyle changes or medication can be given to prevent or delay this turning into bigger problems.

This includes conditions and diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes and kidney disease.

Now a massive drive backed by The News for eligible people to get tested at either their GP practice or a pharmacy has been put in place by Portsmouth City and Hampshire County councils.

Councillor Liz Fairhurst, who is in charge of adult social care and public health at the county council, said: ‘The importance of early detection, and wherever possible prevention, of avoidable conditions such as diabetes cannot be overstated.

‘I’m pleased we are seeing an increase in the number of Hampshire residents opting for an NHS Health Check.

‘By giving people the opportunity to actively request a check, and enabling GPs to offer eligible patients one at opportune moments, we are able to better support people to stay in good health, enjoy their lives and maintain their independence for longer.’

In Portsmouth between April and September, 5,927 people were invited for a check , but only 30 per cent – 1,816 – have taken up the offer.

In Hampshire, between July and September, 11,130 – 48 per cent – of the 23,011 residents offered the test took it up.

This is a rise from the 31.5 per cent of eligible people who had the test between April and June.

The county council said there are a number of reasons for this, which includes the public health team working closely with GP practices and Clinical Commissioning Groups, to focus on the benefits of avoiding health problems related to lifestyle, and a six-month promotion programme.

Amanda McKenzie, NHS Health Check manager for Portsmouth, said: ‘We don’t want people to wait for an invitation to get checked, if you are aged between 40 and 74 and don’t have a health problem you know about then get tested.

‘This is all about prevention and keeping people as healthy as possible.

‘Although we saw an increase in the number of people getting checked in quarter two of this year, overall Portsmouth is on 30 per cent. By the end of March 2015, we would like this to be at 40 per cent.

‘We want to identify any early indicators of problems so we can guide people to the relevant help to prevent this.

‘So for instance help losing weight, quitting smoking, looking at exercise and alcohol intake.’

Posters have been put up in surgeries and pharmacies to promote the check, but people are being encouraged to ask about it if they are eligible, even if they haven’t had a letter inviting them.

Dr Matthew Smith, city council public health consultant, said: ‘It’s even easier for eligible individuals to get their test. You don’t have to wait for a letter, but instead you can book your own appointment.’

‘Test was easy to have and gives peace of mind’

THE idea of having an NHS Health Check is to detect potential problems before they do real damage.

The NHS said everyone is at risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and some forms of dementia, but a lot of these conditions can be prevented.

This is why men and women aged between 40 and 74, who do not have a current medical problem, are being encouraged to book in their free test, which takes around 30 minutes.

Jamie O’Reilly, 43, of Goldsmith Avenue, Southsea, heard about the test and went to Lalys Pharmacy, in Kingston Road, to get checked.

He said: ‘I went to the pharmacy and asked if I could have the NHS Health Check.

‘I was taken to a consultation room where I was asked questions about my lifestyle, and had my blood pressure and cholesterol measured.

‘All the information was shared with me and told me what my health was like, which is good.

‘It also made me think about things like getting back into going to the gym again, which I had stopped since hurting my shoulder.

‘The test was easy to have and gave me peace of mind.

‘It was also really easy to get checked in a pharmacy, as you didn’t need to make an appointment.’

People who are eligible for the check will be invited via a letter in the post, but if you fit the bill then you can contact your GP or a pharmacy to get checked. From the tests a healthcare professional will be able to give you an idea of your risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease.

If you are aged over 65, you will also be told the signs and symptoms of dementia, and you’ll be made aware of memory services nearby.

Checks can save lives and the NHS money

NATIONALLY the body behind the NHS Health Check believes it can make a real difference to people’s lives.

Public Health England estimates a successful NHS Health Check programme could:

Prevent 1,600 heart attacks a year – saving at least 650 lives

Prevent more than 4,000 people from developing diabetes

Detect at least 20,000 cases of diabetes or kidney disease earlier, therefore enabling people to manage their condition and help prevent later complications.

Help reduce the increasing health and social care costs related to long term ill-health and disability.

Diabetes UK said in 2012 that £9.8bn was spent each year on managing people with diabetes and that it expected this to rise to £16bn over the next 25 years.

According to the Health and Social Care Information Centre, in 2012/2013, £58.1m was spent on prescribing stop-smoking medication nationally, and there were 1.6m smoking-related hospital admissions.

And in the same year £3m was spent nationally on helping those with alcohol problems, and there were 1.2m hospital admissions.

Mark Hoban, MP for Fareham, said: ‘Everyone knows when their car needs an annual MOT and ensures they get it booked in and checked out.

‘I’m really disappointed that so few people are taking up the opportunity to have an NHS Health Check.

‘Identifying problems early improves our health and means we can nip problems in the bud.

‘That is of a huge benefit for the NHS as it’s cheaper to treat a problem early.’