Millions of people failing to take free test that could spot deadly diseases, NHS warns

A free health check that could spot deadly diseases has been taken by less than half of over-40s, NHS England has warned.

The free screening tests for many of Britain's biggest killers, such as heart problems, kidney disease and Type 2 diabetes. But it has been taken by only a minority of the 15 million people who are eligible to undergo it, the health body warned.

It consists of just a 20 minute long, entirely painless assessment and could potentially save people's lives, experts have warned.

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But despite the fact that dementia and Alzheimer's disease remain the leading cause of death in England and Wales in 2017, millions of people have not taken the test that could quickly help avoid them.

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Someone who has had a stroke, or has diabetes or heart disease, is around twice as likely to develop vascular dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Society.

"The start of a new year is exactly the right time to commit to taking a simple, free and potentially life-saving step towards a healthier life," said Alistair Burns, national clinical director for dementia at NHS England.

Everyone aged between 40 and 74 with no pre-existing health conditions is automatically eligible for the check, which happens every five years.

It is part of the NHS in England's goal of improving early diagnosis of dementia.

"There is good evidence to suggest that what's good for the heart is also good for the brain, but while 77% people believe they can reduce their risk of heart disease, only 34% of people know they can reduce their risk of dementia," said Laura Phipps, head of communications at Alzheimer's Research UK.

"Research shows that midlife is a crucial time to take action that will help maintain a healthy brain into later life. With dementia now the UK's leading cause of death, we must encourage everyone to take positive steps to maintain good brain health throughout life and into older age."

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Jamie Waterall, who leads on the programme at Public Health England, said: "The NHS health check looks at the top causes of premature death and ill health but more importantly supports people to take action of reducing their risk of preventable conditions such as dementia and heart disease."

The national target of ensuring at least two-thirds of people living with dementia are diagnosed and treated has been met for the past two years, NHS England said.

Information about the health check can be found on the NHS UK website.

Additional reporting by Press Association