Top Wigan doctor issues apology for missed check-ups

A top Wigan medic has apologised after figures show that most people with severe mental illnesses in the borough missed crucial health checks last year, despite being at risk of premature death.

Monday, 22nd March 2021, 11:08 am

Those with conditions like schizophrenia, psychosis or personality disorders are likely to die up to 20 years earlier than the general population, according to the NHS.

To combat the problem, the health service pledged to ensure 280,000 people a year would have comprehensive physical health checks by 2021.

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Hundreds of local patients have missed out on vital check ups because of the pandemic

NHS Wigan Borough CCG data suggests that health services are struggling to ensure those eligible undergo a comprehensive physical examination annually.

And Dr Tim Dalton, chairman of NHS Wigan Borough CCG, said: “I would like to start by saying how sorry I am that so many health checks were missed in 2020.

“The annual health check is an important part of preventing serious illnesses like heart attacks and strokes. Many people each year should get a health check, including those who have a severe mental illness.

“We all know that 2020 was a year like no other.

“NHS services, including GP practices and mental health services had to find ways to support people remotely, as well as facing in many cases unprecedented levels of demand due to COVID.

“Sadly, due to these circumstance, services were unable to do as many of the annual health checks as they would have either wanted to do or would have expected to do under more normal times.

“We are determined that 2021 will not be the same and I have already requested the set up a working group so we can try and overcome some of the challenges in undertaking health checks for those with severe mental illnesses, to make sure that they get the support that they need. In the meantime, please remember that your GP practice is still here to help you.”

The NHS and mental health charity Mind are urging people to attend their checks, suggesting that the impact of Covid-19 has underlined the importance of ensuring those with mental health problems can access support to manage their physical well-being.

Stark levels of premature death for those with severe mental illnesses are linked to preventable or treatable problems such as heart and respiratory diseases, diabetes and hypertension. Experts believe the deaths of as many as two out of three could be avoided.

The comprehensive annual check has six elements relating to the monitoring of alcohol consumption, smoking, blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Across England last year, just over 110,500 people underwent the full check-up - around a fifth of those thought to have severe mental illnesses and less than half of the number needed to meet the NHS target.

There are thought to be 2,995 people eligible for the checks in the Wigan Borough area, but due to Covid-19 impacting data collection, the figures for 2020 reflect 98 per cent of them. Of those, 530 - 18 per cent - had the full examination.

And pre-pandemic figures for 2019 show that the 60% target was also missed, with 40 per cent receiving the full range of check-ups that year.

The most common check locally last year was smoking, while the least attended was for alcohol consumption.

Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, urged eligible people to attend their annual checks and said it was crucial to understand the reasons behind poor health outcomes.

He said side effects of medication, underlying health conditions and social factors such as housing, employment and financial inequality could have an impact on health, adding: “The earlier you receive help for your mental and physical health, the more likely you are to benefit from treatment.”

An NHS spokeswoman said almost £1bn was being invested in an effort to improve community mental health services by 2023/24, including improvements to physical health care to ensure 390,000 people with severe mental illness receive their yearly checks.

She added: “Due to the Covid-19 pandemic it is important now more than ever that the local NHS services adapt and offer flexible options to keep people safe from the virus while supporting the physical health of people with severe mental health problems.

“Our message to anyone experiencing poor mental health is that the NHS is here for you, please help us help you, and come forward for the care you need.”

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