The NHS offer a health check to people aged 40-74 every five years, so are private health screenings worth it? For anyone outside that age bracket, or for those who want to monitor their health on a more regular basis, could a private health screening be a viable option? We find out.
Health screenings could help with early detection of common, preventable health issues. An estimated 50-80% of heart attacks and strokes are preventable, while regular check-ups could prevent 4,000 people a year from developing diabetes.
Here, we ask Dr Josh Cullimore and Managing Director at Bluecrest, Peter Blencowe, the biggest questions surrounding health screenings…
What exactly is a health screening?
“A health screening is a series of tests and examinations that provide an overview of your current health,” explains Blencowe. “Bluecrest screening packages check artery health, heart rhythm (resting ECG), body composition. They also include a biochemistry check for liver disease, kidney function, cardiovascular health, diabetes, gout and more.”
Which key health issues do they pick up?
“The tests help to assess your risks of conditions such as pre-diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease risk. These often show no symptoms in their early stages,” says Dr Cullimore.
“Depending on which package you’ve chosen, the range of tests can include blood profiling, lung function checks and specialist tests including thyroid function and hormones, too.”
Can Bluecrest’s health screenings detect cancer?
“Certain tests can assess ovarian or prostate cancer risk,” says Dr Cullimore. “For those aged 40+, the Core and Executive packages include blood tests, which check for ovarian cancer risk in women (called the CA125 test) or prostate cancer risk in men (called the PSA test).
“Cancer Antigen 125 (CA125) is a chemical produced by cancer cells that circulates in the bloodstream. Women with ovarian cancer tend to have higher levels of CA125 in their blood than women who don’t have it. However, it’s important to remember that a raised CA125 level could also be caused by other conditions such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease.
“Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) is a protein made by the prostate gland that naturally leaks into the bloodstream. Sometimes, a raised PSA level in a man’s bloodstream can be a sign of prostate cancer. Like the CA125 test, it’s important to note that a raised PSA level can also be caused by other issues including prostatitis (an enlarged prostate gland) and urinary tract infections. Where we find an abnormal PSA or CA125 level, we’ll provide advice on the next steps.
“Your results report also includes a guide that shows you how to self-examine for breast or testicular cancer.”
How does the test for diabetes work?
“During your appointment, the health screening specialist will take a small sample of your blood, and send it to the largest independent laboratory in the UK for analysis. Our laboratory will examine the components of your blood, including glucose, the main type of sugar in the blood,” explains Dr Cullimore.
“Although high levels of glucose in your blood can indicate diabetes, sometimes glucose levels may be higher than normal, but not high enough to be classed as diabetes. This is known as pre-diabetes, and people with this condition have a greater risk of developing diabetes.
“Importantly, detecting pre-diabetes may help you halt its progression. Sometimes, this is through medical treatment, but often through diet and lifestyle changes alone.”
How long does a health screening last – do I need to prep beforehand?
“Most health screenings take around 30-40 minutes. You don’t need to fast before your appointment, so you can eat and drink as you normally would,” says Blencowe. “During your appointment, your health screening specialist will talk you through each test as it’s carried out.”
“Drink plenty of water as this helps maintain your blood circulation, making it easier to take your bloody sample. While all our screenings are non-invasive and you won’t need to get undressed, we do advise you wear loose, non-restrictive clothing and avoid wearing tights. This will allow your health screening specialist to easily access your arms and lower legs.”
How much does a Bluecrest screening cost?
“The entry level package, covering your heart health and stroke risk, liver and kidney health and other general health markers starts at £129,” says Blencowe. Don’t forget that as a Vitality member you can benefit from 50% off this cost.
What happens when I get my results?
“After your screening, we send your blood samples and key readings securely to the laboratory and cardiology team. Experts will then compile your results into a personalised health report,” explains Blencowe.
“If there are any critical results, we’ll notify you immediately so you can seek medical attention. Otherwise, you’ll receive a detailed results report in the post within 21 days. You’ll also get access to your results online via the Health Hub.
“The results report explains each health check in detail, giving every result a ‘flag’ of red, amber or green. These flags help you to easily identify if any of your results are outside of the normal range for your age and gender.”
Who can I talk to if I’m confused or concerned?
“If you have further questions, you can access a 24/7 GP helpline for a year following your screening. So, if you have a question about your results or just need general health advice, you can call any time to discuss your concerns with a registered GP,” says Blencowe.