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Home health kits 'hit and miss'

Home health kits could be a waste of time, effort and money, according to Which?

The DIY kits for conditions including prostate cancer and stomach ulcers could cause false alarm or provide false reassurance, the consumer magazine found.

"Self-test health kits could be a useful tool, but the lack of clear information about how to use them could do more harm than good. As your GP may well have to carry out their own tests to confirm a positive diagnosis anyway, you may be better off saving your money and going straight to your GP," said chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith.

Which? experts examined six kits, available at chemists or online for between £4.99 and £15.99, and interviewed 64 members of the public about their use.

The results were "hit and miss", with some consumers saying the prostate test results could have led to them not seeking medical help. The research also found gaps in information which could lead to unnecessary worry.

There were also examples of "baffling language, with consumers in one case asked to draw blood from the "hillside" of the finger. Other potentially confusing terms included "separation membranes", "desiccant" and "in-vitro diagnostic device".

The Selfcheck Health Test, which tests for an antigen (PSA) linked to prostate problems, did not explain that recent sexual activity, a urine infection or vigorous exercise, could raise PSA levels, the researchers said. And the Simplicity Stomach Ulcer Screening Test was misleadingly named, Which? said. It tests for a particular bacteria but only a minority of people with that bacteria are likely to develop a stomach ulcer.

Which? experts and the Plain English Campaign will pass their findings to the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Products Agency (MHRA) and self-testing kit manufacturers to try to help improve the quality of information supplied.

A Boots spokeswoman said: "Boots UK recommends that home testing kits should not be used in isolation and should always be used with advice from a GP or pharmacist. It is advisable for customers to consult the pharmacy team prior to taking the test and ensure that they read and strictly follow the written instructions in the kits."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We urge people to be cautious when using home testing kits. Anyone who is concerned that they may be suffering from an infection or illness should contact their GP practice, pharmacist or other health professional for advice. NHS Direct can also provide advice on 0845 46 47."

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