Having taken the duties of a personal finance journalist to within touching distance of their extremity I shall be expectantly scanning the New Years’ Honours List.
My research has included experiencing having my testicles felt by three unfamiliar and, alas, male hands and undergoing three separate blood and urine tests.
It has also involved sampling the delights of the “digital rectal examination”. Three of these during the same week left me 100% certain that I did not have a prostate problem.
The purpose was to provide an authoritative guide as to which of the three main health screening providers offer best value – some readers having complained that most publications merely state there is little to choose between them.
So it gives me great pleasure to be able to state categorically that….there is indeed little to choose between the three main providers. Nevertheless, there are subtle differences in levels of service that are worth knowing about.
Location is undoubtedly the most important consideration, so the essential starting point is to see which group has the nearest screening centre. For corporate cases attention should also be paid to discounts that can be negotiated and to any special occupational health services available. By building a relationship with a health screening provider, intermediaries can often negotiate discounts for corporate cases as well as individual clients making this a valuable add-on service.
All three providers emerged from this mystery shopping exercise with a very definite thumbs up but the “Best Buy” accolade, by a nose, goes to Bupa Wellness.
By the time I had left Bupa Wellness’ Kings Cross premises I had already received a written report detailing the results of my screening, including a basic interpretation of my electrocardiogram test (ECG). The only thing I had to wait for through the post was a report from a cardiologist.
The importance of this spontaneity should not be underestimated. One of the primary purposes of going for a screening is to achieve peace of mind and this can be an awkward commodity to have to wait a week or 10 days for.
Nuffield Hospitals Health Screening gave most results verbally during the session, including a detailed blood test analysis, but did not issue a written report for several days. BMI Health Services, which examines blood samples at an external laboratory, was only able to provide a verbal all clear subject to blood test results.
Bupa Wellness was also notable for providing the best food. An unexpected downside of having a health screening is that you are required to fast for up to six hours beforehand and are not normally allowed to drink anything other than water or black coffee. Once you have had your blood and urine tests, however, you are permitted light refreshments.
Anyone going for a screening is therefore strongly advised to book their appointment first thing in the morning because it is far easier to go without eating for two hours after you wake up than for six hours after breakfast.
Having been foolish enough to book my appointment with Nuffield Hospitals Health Screening at 3.30 in the afternoon I was disappointed to be offered no more than a cup of coffee and a mundane selection of biscuits. And spare a thought for those who had screenings immediately after me, because there were no biscuits left!
Nuffield emphasises that the situation arose because I had my screening at the London Clinic in Devonshire Place, one of two independent partners that it uses in London. At its own hospitals refreshments are apparently more plentiful.
BMI Health Services’ Wimpole Street premises provided a more appetising selection of low calorie cereal bars but Bupa Wellness went considerably further, laying on the equivalent of a full uncooked breakfast.
The downside of Bupa Wellness, however, was that during those periods when you were not actually with a doctor or nurse there was something of a sausage factory/conveyor belt atmosphere.
Cost of the exercise
BMI Health Services had the least time consuming initial questionnaires to complete and the most pertinent combination of investigations. It does not bother with routine eyesight and hearing tests, which proved quite lengthy but of debatable value elsewhere, and tailors the investigations you receive according to factors such as your age and medical history.
Because I had turned 40, for example, I received an “exercise ECG” – conducted whilst on a treadmill – in addition to a standard ECG. With the other providers the exercise ECG is only available to those who pay extra for their top-of-the range screenings. If I had not reached 40, on the other hand, BMI Health Services would not have given me even a standard ECG, which the others include automatically.
For someone who has never had an ECG before such an omission could in fact greatly relieve the stress of having a health screening because wires are stuck to you in quantities sufficient to suggest you have been condemned to die by electrocution. But the exercise is in fact completely painless.
With all three providers I attended a comprehensive screening costing in the region of £350. These last for two hours and involve around 40 different tests in total. They carry out most worthwhile external tests and some internal ones like lung capacity assessments. They also provide consultations on medical histories, diets and lifestyles.
More basic formats, lasting around one hour and costing between £170 and £215, meet with much less demand. They have far more limited blood tests and, with the exception of Bupa Wellness, focus primarily on disease detection as opposed to lifestyle.
A health screening can only ever provide a snapshot on a given day rather than a guarantee of good health but it could well detect a potentially serious disease at a stage where fast and effective treatment can be instigated. BMI Health Services reports that it does so once every couple of months on average.
The main attraction is the ability to receive two hours of undivided attention from doctors and nurses and explore your health concerns in a relaxed matter. GPs nowadays are only allocated around seven minutes per patient and are obviously more interested in attending to those who are sick than those who are well. Furthermore some people would value a second opinion.
Whilst free basic check-ups are available on demand at your GP’s discretion these do not compare with even the lowest cost private screenings and can consist of little more than weighing, measuring and testing blood pressure.
Specific check-ups such as cervical smear tests and mammographies can of course also be obtained on the NHS but there is a lot to be said for addressing all one’s concerns via a one-stop-approach at a time suitable to you.
I was perhaps a little disappointed to receive so many standard paragraphs in my written reports about the need to take exercise, keep to a healthy diet and abide by other words of wisdom which amounted to little more than general knowledge.
Nevertheless I was certainly relieved to know that my protruding waist-line doesn’t represent quite the health risk I had imagined and that excellent cholesterol and blood pressure levels mean that I have a lower than average chance of developing any cardiovascular problems in the near future.
I was also pleased to learn that I showed no signs of skin cancer. I had understood that I represented an unusually bad risk in this respect as a result of having once been blond and having spent my childhood in a hot climate in Iraq.
Advice on a problem of a somewhat personal nature also proved very useful….there’s nothing like leaving your readers in suspense!