Our Future Health is investigating inaccurate cholesterol readings

News – 28 February 2024

Our Future Health is the UK’s largest ever health research programme, which aims to recruit a representative cohort of up to 5 million participants and enable research that will promote earlier detection, prevention, and treatment of disease.

We record key physical measurements, including blood pressure and cholesterol, during appointments and other family and sociodemographic factors in the questionnaire for estimation of cardiovascular risk as well as genomic analysis from a donated blood sample to better differentiate this risk. Participants receive physical measurement data alongside links to advice from the NHS and the British Heart Foundation. Although it is very clear in our participant materials that these data are for research rather than clinical purposes, we have a duty of care to advise those with potential harmful readings to seek appropriate clinical management.

We use the Mission® device to conduct point-of-care testing (POCT) for cholesterol, which is approved for use by the NHS [1]; in 2019/20, 63% of local authorities reported using POCT – the majority for cholesterol – in the NHS Health Check programme. [2]

We were very concerned about reports from local GPs of a high volume of inaccurate readings from our Oxford clinic during October and November and are investigating possible causes for this unprecedented increase; despite operating in over 100 clinics in England during the past year, we have received relatively few related enquiries. We have met representatives of the local GP community and Berks, Bucks, and Oxon Local Medical Committee and are using their insights to inform improvements in our programme. For instance, we are prioritising changes to our participant materials and discussions with the Department of Health and Social Care to help more clearly distinguish our research activity from NHS Health Checks.

To mitigate unnecessary GP workload, we continue to work closely with NHS stakeholders, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the BMA, and local primary care organisations.

This article was originally published on the British Medical Journal’s website on 16 January 2024: Our Future Health is investigating inaccurate cholesterol readings | The BMJ

[1] National Institute for Health and Care Research, Newcastle In Vitro Diagnostics Cooperative. Point of care testing for cholesterol measuring: a rapid review and presentation of the scientific evidence. 18 May 2022. https://newcastle.mic.nihr.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/NIHRNewcastleMIC_AHSNLipidPOCT_Report_vFinal.pdf.

[2] Public Health England. Findings from the 2019-20 NHS health check delivery survey. March 2021. www.healthcheck.nhs.uk/seecmsfile/?id=1603.