Private screening is regularly in the news. A survey last year by Pulse found nearly half of GPs had experienced extra workload as a result of patients having private screening tests.
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Thinking of having a private screening test?
Good health is something we all value and many of us take positive steps to stay as healthy as we can.
We can also have health checks, called ‘screening’, to spot problems before they get too serious and before symptoms develop. If a person has made an informed choice to have a screening test, the process is a bit like sifting people through a sieve. Most of us pass straight through, but a few get picked up in the mesh. These few can then go on to make an informed choice about what to do next – this might be to have further tests or treatment.
NHS screening – balancing benefit with risk
The NHS offers a number of screening tests throughout our lifetime. Having a test to make sure you or your unborn baby is healthy sounds like a sensible idea. After all, if everything is fine, you’ll feel reassured. And if there is a problem, it’s not too late to do something about it.
People need information about the condition being screened for and the whole screening pathway before deciding whether or not to accept the test. This is because even the best screening test may not be 100% accurate. Tests may not always give clear cut answers and the results could even be confusing.
The NHS, taking advice from the UK NSC, only runs screening programmes when good evidence shows the benefits outweigh any risks. We also offer a complete service, not just a test – making sure you understand why you’ve been offered screening, what the outcomes might be, if there are any down sides and what your options are for each outcome. We make sure any possible care or treatment needed is in place.
Private companies offer health screening too – sometimes called ‘health MOTs’ or similar – ranging from simple blood tests and physical examinations to full body scans and screening for serious conditions. Some of these tests are not recommended by the UK NSC because it is not clear the benefits outweigh the harms. If you’re thinking about paying for any of these checks, it’s worth asking the following questions first.
What do I hope to gain from this test?
If you don’t have any symptoms you’re probably looking for peace of mind. Are you sure this test is going to offer that?
Can I get the information I need another way?
If what you’re really after is health advice, your GP or pharmacy is a good place to start, or you could try NHS Choices.
Can I get this test on the NHS?
Some companies offer screening for conditions already covered by a free NHS programme.
Is the screening company properly regulated?
It is a legal requirement that all providers of screening services in England are registered with the Care Quality Commission.
What does the fee cover?
Make sure you understand what you’re paying for. Will the company charge extra to follow up your results? If so, how much will it cost?
Can the test do more harm than good?
Some tests carry a risk in themselves (such as CT scans, which use radiation). Has the company provided balanced information about the risk? Is this outweighed by the benefit of the test?
What if the test picks something up?
The obvious selling point for screening is that if you can catch a problem early, you can do something about it. Make sure this is really true for the test you’re considering.
What if there are no clear results?
If there’s a chance that you’ll need more tests, ask what they might involve, how much they cost and who will be doing them.