Physical health checks

The physical health of people living with severe mental illness is crucial to their overall health and wellbeing. However, we know that those living with SMI are four and a half times more likely to die before the age of 70 than the general population. That’s why it is vital that as many people with SMI receive their annual physical health check from their GP. Read on to find out more.

People living with severe mental illness experience a higher prevalence of physical health conditions such as obesity, asthma, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure.

We know that these inequalities often relate directly to the experience of living with a severe mental illness. For example, medication can affect physical health by inducing appetite, mental health challenges can make it more difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and things like food, cigarettes and alcohol can help people to cope.

This issue was recognised by NHS England in 2016 via the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. It was recommended at the time that 280,000 people should receive a full annual physical health check to detect physical health issues early - a commitment that the NHS Long Term Plan extended in 2019 to 390,000 people.

The current NHS target is for 60% of people on a GP’s SMI register to receive a physical health check. However, the delivery of these checks has consistently fallen below this target. In January to March 2020, the percentage of people receiving a check in the previous year was only 36%. In January to March of 2021, this reduces to 23%, as a result of the pandemic. 

Taking action

Rethink Mental Illness have been a strong voice in highlighting the inadequate levels of full physical health checks taking place. We have been encouraging NHS England and Improvement and the Department of Health and Social Care to improve the delivery and uptake of physical health checks.

We welcomed £4.5m of funding for Clinical Commissioning Groups, attached to the Government’s Mental Health and Wellbeing winter plan, to improve outreach to service users to improve delivery of the checks, which has been bolstered more recently, with a further £14m of funding committed to these projects.

We were also pleased to hear that NHS England and Improvement has instructed GPs to reprioritise physical health checks from April 2021.

Watch this space

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is vital that the 60% target for delivery of physical health checks is finally met. We will soon be launching our physical health toolkit, designed to be used for people living with severe mental illness and health professionals to manage the process of receiving a physical health check.

This toolkit has been co-produced with people with lived experience of mental health issues and their carers. This will be accompanied by resources to help people on the SMI register and their carers to understand the purpose of their physical health check, what it includes and how to request a check from their GP.

We will continue to raise awareness of physical health inequalities of those severely affected by mental illness and will urge health professionals to take responsibility for the role they play in addressing these through the delivery of physical health checks.


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