NAC Health &Wellbeing Committee Highlights: To Scan Or Not To Scan?

woman being prepared for a body scan in hospitalHealth & Wellbeing Committee Co-chair, Carolyn Desforges, explores the risks and benefits of body scans

During the June 2021 NAC Q&A, concern was raised that some beneficiaries, when undergoing surgery, were discovering evidence of internal damage that had been there since birth. It was suggested that all beneficiaries should be offered a full body scan to identify any internal abnormalities.

I was aware that deciding to have a body scan is a complex decision, not to be taken lightly. So, I contacted our Trust Medical Advisers, and Katy Sagoe (Director of Health & Wellbeing) for their opinions. I thought you would be interested in their response:

“As we have become more involved with beneficiaries having surgery – in particular through the Private Referral scheme – we are more aware that some beneficiaries are finding evidence of internal damage that has been there all along. This may not cause any problems on a day-to-day basis, but can be unexpected when performing surgery and so make it more complex.

Therefore, we have amended our advice to the clinical teams performing surgery on beneficiaries. If you are going into hospital, we can provide a letter flagging any potential issues to ensure the surgeon has all the information they need in advance of the operation.”

But should everyone be offered a full body scan?

The Trust Medical Advisers said:
“We wouldn’t recommend this for several reasons:

  • Current medical advice is to avoid unnecessary scans and x-rays to reduce exposure to potentially damaging side effects.
  • There is a high risk of over-diagnosis leading to potentially unnecessary medical treatment and associated worry. Many abnormalities that are detected by screening will never go on to cause any harm. There is increasing concern amongst the medical profession about the implication of over-diagnosis.
  • Screening is limited in what it covers. It can never really provide a clean bill of health – there are false negatives as well as false positives.  Therefore it may not actually give you peace of mind.
  • Identifying a reputable private provider (as this screening is not available on the NHS) and having an objective interpretation of the results is problematic. Some of the tests offered by private companies are not recommended by the NHS, because it is not clear that the benefits outweigh the harms.

At the moment, our advice to beneficiaries is:

  1. Screening is not for people with symptoms. If you have specific health concerns or new symptoms, speak to your GP. If they feel a scan is necessary, they will refer you to the NHS. You could use your Health Grant to access this privately if you feel the wait is too long.
  2. If you are having planned surgery, then ask for a letter from the Trust that explains the possible complications a surgeon may find.
  3. If, despite this advice, you still want to use your Health Grant to pay for a private screening scan, use a reputable provider. It is a legal requirement that all providers of screening services are registered with the relevant care regulator, so check this is the case.”

Read more about the pros and cons of screening

Visit the Sense About Science website and read their article Making Sense Of Screening