Is the Well Woman health check a wasted opportunity?

Judith Wills / 05 September 2014

Diet and wellbeing blogger Judith Wills attends her Well Woman health check and wonders whether the NHS is really making the most of the opportunity.



Phew! Last week I finished my marathon two months of constant work – 6½ or even seven day weeks and 6 or 7am starts in order to meet an end of August deadline, and I even handed it in a day early. Since then we've had two lots of family to stay (albeit in a rather neglected house and with food cooked by a slightly knackered chef), the last of whom are going home this Saturday, so then life will get back to whatever normal is here.

But I did one thing during these past busy weeks – I took two hours off work to attend my Well Woman appointment with the practice nurse at our local surgery. A free health check, offered to all women over 60 every few years - sounded like a good idea even if I would have to go along and confess to doing no exercise whatsoever for several weeks and to not having lost the half stone or so I had intended to lose back in the spring. Truth be told, I've probably actually put a bit more on this past few weeks. I reckoned I could man up and take the telling off in return for finding out what needs to be done to get me back feeling good.

After the usual wait, I was called in to see nurse Steph and one by one we ticked off the items on her list.

First, the questionnaire – how much did I drink? Well like everyone does, I lied a bit and said only with my evening meal (true) and no more than two glasses. I omitted to mention the size of the glasses. How many vegetables did I eat? No need to lie here – masses. Did I smoke? No, not for about forty years. How much exercise did I do? Well – none for a while, but usually, I try to walk, and I do lots of gardening, and I try to stretch and I have a hula hoop and a rower. And after the end of August I'm going to be really good. And so on, and so on went the questions, and the answers, skewed a little to make me seem slightly less unhealthy and neglectful of self than I probably really am.

Strangely, Steph didn't weigh or measure me but simply asked my height and what I weighed – I could have lied like mad about the weight as I'd quite ridiculously worn 'slimming' clothes to try to make myself feel better about my matronly bustline and fat middle - but I only lied a bit. I said I weighed 11 stone, which may or may not be true as I haven't weighed myself for many weeks and am probably somewhat more than that. I could also have lied about my height as I'd got half-hidden high heels on and might have passed for 5ft 9, but she got the truth, 5ft 7.

I sat there sure she'd whip out the scales and tape measure to check, but no, she just announced that my body mass index is 26, 'not too bad!', but I should lose half a stone, which I promised to do.

Questions over, she did a finger prick for a cholesterol test – regular readers will know my cholesterol is so high I should be dead, I reckon – and sure enough it was 7.8. But, as usual, I was told it was OK as my HDL ('good') to LDL ('bad') is excellent, which is more important than the total.

And that was it. End of Well Woman check.

So I now have a piece of paper informing me that my drinking levels are fine, I'm only a tiny tad overweight (I still haven't weighed myself so I'm not sure how wrong that is; I'll get round to it next week and let you all know), that I eat plenty of fruit and veg, that I normally do plenty of exercise, and that my risk of dying of heart disease in the next ten years is 9.2% - within the 'good' category.

The only recommendation if it could be called such, was the note in the weight category – 'Judith has promised to lose half a stone over the coming months'. But there was no help on how to do that (she didn't know it's more or less what I do for a living).

I'd somehow thought the check would be more comprehensive – I'm sure I had one five or so years ago and it was. The thing in retrospect that I find baffling is why bother to get older women into the surgery if basically the nurse is relying on the patient to tell the truth about her lifestyle habits, her weight and so on? Apart from the cholesterol test, everything else she wrote on my final report was based on information I'd given her which could easily have all been lies. Or indeed, a percentage of older women may have memory problems or other reasons why their answers would be unreliable.

I guess it's better than nothing – but I really do think they should get out the weighing scales and the height measure, at the very least. If the NHS doesn't know that most women lie about their weight, then it's more naïve than I thought. And what about a diabetes check? It's supposedly the most common non-reported disease of our time. And some personal advice on any problems found would be an idea NHS, would it not? Why do a check if you then send people on their way with no more than a sheet giving their score and reminding them what you've just told them?

I've a horrid feeling, though, it's just going to get worse down at the surgery for us older folk. I'll be amazed if in a few years' time I get called in for another Well Woman at all. They'll have scrapped it to save money.

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