Private health screening bonanza as thousands of Brits take unnecessary tests

According to doctors in the UK, thousands of healthy people, encouraged by celebrity endorsements, are having expensive private medical tests done which they do not need and may even be doing them harm.

Charles George, British Medical Association (BMA) president, says in Britain alone, last year 65 million pounds was spent on private health screening, and business is booming across rich developed nations.

In a recent report, Population Screening and Genetic Testing, the private screening sector is criticised for seeing and exploiting a market.

George says the only benefit will be to the wallets of the private screening sector and little else, as it is very rare that any problems are picked up.

The BMA says very often private screening examines healthy people who want reassurance, but it could produce misleading results if it did not take into account people's backgrounds and their likelihood of developing certain diseases.

The BMA also says, not only did false positive results cause trauma and sometimes lead to unnecessary and painful surgery, but the computerized CT scans using special X-ray equipment could cause harm as they emitted much more radiation than a normal X-ray.

Although they do not offer any specific explanation for the boom in the global business, George refers to the growing numbers of the "worried well", people concerned about their health but lacking information.

In addition Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's director of professional activities, says testing should be targeted where it was most effective, on ethnic or age groups known to be at particular risk.

Nathanson is calling for ad hoc testing to be properly regulated to ensure quality and for the public to be fully informed about the potential risks and benefits.

She says the tests have very low benefits in relation to the risks.

Nathanson is very concerned in particular, about genetic screening tests, performed without proper counseling that could not only traumatize the individual but also members of their family and even be used by life insurance companies to refuse cover.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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