Why I so fiercely back the NHS Health Checks - Hilary Hibbert-Biles

There can be no greater incentive in championing a good cause or fighting for change when it is something that has had a profound effect on your life.

Hilary Hibbert-Biles, the Cabinet Member for Public Health and Education at Oxfordshire County Council, is a passionate advocate of NHS Health Checks – a service funded by the council.

And the long-standing politician who represents Chipping Norton has good reason to be so forthright about them – after all her she is adamant her husband Jim’s life was saved by one.

The retired airline pilot received a routine letter inviting him to attend an NHS Health Check which check for a range of cardiovascular conditions and health risks like diabetes, dementia, heart disease and stroke

Jim needed no prompting to go and during his consultation his clinicians decided to carry out an additional test. The result showed he had bladder cancer.

Hilary is at pains to point out that the NHS Health Check does not test for cancer, but the simple fact that her husband went to his surgery in Shipton-under-Wychwood when invited and had a further test meant that the disease was caught early.

Jim, now 77, has made a complete recovery.

It is not widely understood that the NHS Health Checks are a statutory service commissioned by the county council’s public health team.

The transfer of public health from the NHS to local government in 2013 was hailed as one of the most significant extensions of local government powers and duties in a generation.

It represented a unique opportunity to change the focus from treating sickness to actively promoting health and wellbeing – reinforcing the county’s mission to make the people, communities and the economy of Oxfordshire all thrive.

The county’s Public Health team has a broad role from commissioning services to preventing disease and it works with a diverse range of partners from district councils to the NHS and community groups

An example of this is commissioning full time school nurses to provide a public health agenda for every secondary school in the county – another one of Hilary’s causes that she brought in when she became Cabinet Member in 2013

There’s also a broad range of health campaigns too - from anti-smoking Stoptober to the annual flu immunisation programme for at-risk adults, the elderly and children.

But for Hilary, who has been a county councillor for 13 years, the NHS Health Checks remain a crucial campaign.

She explained: “When I became cabinet member for public health it was something I wanted to boost. We have a problem with men who don’t go to the doctor to have a check. And I feel particularly aggrieved about that because of my husband.

“I know that had he not have gone the cancer would not have been caught and he might not be here today. So, I have a very personal reason to support the checks. But even before then I was keen on them. I am even more so now.”

The mum and proud grandmother of two added: “I think women are far more inclined to go for health checks, but men avoid it. I don’t know if it is because they are macho. When I was looking at how we could get more men involved I thought about Oxford United who, when I was chairman of the county council, were promoted a division.

“I held a reception for them and used to go quite often to watch them play after that. So, when I was thinking about how we could reach out and get more men involved I thought of their football matches.”

Hilary and the public health team have done mini-health checks a two Oxford United games – the latest in April this year where the U’s managing director Niall McWilliam was one of the 248 men to have their health assessed.

His test flagged up high blood pressure – meaning he was at greater risk of stroke or developing heart disease. He too is now a strong advocate of the Health Checks and has made this video for the Public Health team (link to go in here)

The awareness-raising exercise at the Kassam showed just one in 10 supporters who took the check got a clean bill of health. Eight in 10 got an ‘amber’ rating and 10 per cent were shown the ‘red card’ - meaning a follow-up GP appointment was strongly advised.

Since Health Checks came under the county’s control a total of 190,000 invitations have been sent out in Oxfordshire, with an average uptake of 50.4% over the last five years.

  • 1,357 people were informed they had Type 2 diabetes with a further 3,494 people being told they were on the threshold of developing it
  • 900 people were diagnosed with Chronic Kidney
  • 26,422 people were given advice about their weight
  • 21,173 people were informed they had high blood pressure
  • 9,072 people were given smoking cessation advice
  • 8,426 people were advised to increase physical activity
  • 4,522 people were given advice on lowering alcohol consumption

Hilary is determined to get more people - especially men - aged between 40 and 74 to grasp the opportunity to have a personal ‘MoT’ once every five years.

People who have not already been diagnosed with a chronic condition should automatically receive an invite.

Hilary said: “When we feel fit we all think we’re invincible and nothing is going to happen to us. People tend to only go to the doctor when they are ill. I want them to go when they are well. Please don’t think it’s taking up a doctor’s valuable time. It’s important. Practically all checks are carried out by a nurse.

“If you haven’t had an invite you can phone your GP surgery and ask for one.

“One excuse people may give for not being tested is that they can never get an appointment. It’s not an urgent matter, so if you cannot get an appointment in the next week, make one for three weeks or a month’s time and book yourself in.

“It’s a decision that could save your life.”

For further information about free NHS Health Checks visit: www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/nhshealthcheck