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Now Ulster's over 40s may receive a free health check

Free health checks for the over 40s could be extended to Northern Ireland, if the scheme is successful in England.

The MOT scheme - believed to be a world first - is a pet project of Gordon Brown who flagged it up in his first major speech on the NHS in January.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson announced the plans for England and Wales earlier this week.

The scheme would mean screening for heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and the risk of strokes for everyone aged between 40 and 74.

It was estimated that millions of pounds could be saved every year if health problems were found earlier.

The SDLP's health spokeswoman Carmel Hanna said the health initiative would be economically and socially beneficial.

"I think it would be a very good idea. There is a small percentage of people who go for regular check-ups but a large number of people very rarely attend the doctor.

"This is another form of screening - prevention and early intervention - and it will encourage people to take more interest in their health.

"People are reluctant to go to the doctor for fear they could be really ill.

"I think it would save money in the long run because it would encourage people to look after themselves or pick up problems early," she said.

Government modelling suggests the new MOT programme could prevent up to 9,500 heart attacks and strokes and save 2,000 lives every year.

A spokesman for the Department of Health here said they would wait to see how the scheme is rolled out in England before making a decision.

"The Department is awaiting more details about this initiative and will be considering how it might be taken forward in Northern Ireland," the spokesman said.

Dr Lorna Layward, Senior Research Manager for Research into Ageing, Help the Aged, welcomed the proposals but said greater investment would be required.

She said: "It's vital that the government concentrate these services in areas of high deprivation, ensuring they work to close, not widen, the worsening health inequality gap.

"Across the country, patchy provision of health services has created huge variations in ease of access to services.

"Making sure screening programmes reach the whole population - especially the most vulnerable in our society - is about more than targeting provision, there must also be effective promotion of services.

"Offering everyone in mid to later life a Health MOT is a great idea and adding pharmacies and community centres to the list of places where such check-ups take place is a welcome initiative," Dr Layward added.

"Crucial to the success of these proposals is proper investment - we need to see adequate resources for staff, training and testing."

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