This idiotic NHS ‘calculator’ can’t predict heart attacks. But it might well give you one

Heart

9th March 2015

I can understand why the Tories have ring-fenced the NHS, but if they do want to indulge in a little trimming I know just where to start – with the moron who signed off on the online ‘calculator’ that assesses your risk of a heart attack.

Official NHS calculator predicts when you will have a heart attack,’ says a piece in today’s Telegraph. Actually, it doesn’t. Nor does it pretend to. But the NHS can hardly complain about being misrepresented for clickbait, since – even if you report its claims accurately – the ‘calculator’ is nothing more than an expensive PR gimmick.

The NHS last week quietly abandoned its commitment to spend £243 million on its Achilles heel: outdated computer networks that deprive A&E departments of vital information. Instead, Jeremy Hunt has authorised only £43 million as part of a ‘staged rollout’. (A ghastly phrase, always a sign that someone has screwed up – though it’s not a bad description of the insouciant ambling round the wards by the nurses in my local hospital.)

Yet somehow the NHS, supported by Public Health England and the British Heart Foundation, has found the dosh to launch an online tool which is clinically virtually useless but – hey! – interactive.

Here’s how it worked when I tried it just now. It asked for my age, ethnic background and ‘gender’ (a grammatical term considered less offensive than ‘sex’, though while we’re on the subject of causing offence I couldn’t help noticing there was no option for transgendered people).

Fair enough. I replied accurately. I didn’t have much option, since my wife was standing over me and helpfully added a couple of pounds to my weight while shaving an inch off my height.

By this stage I was sweating nervously, having been taken in by the Telegraph’s claim that the ‘calculator’ would predict my first heart attack. Then came the crucial demands: for my blood pressure and cholesterol. Neither of which I knew.

At which point the website should have told me: Go away, you silly old fool. We can’t tell you anything useful about your heart health if you can’t be bothered to supply us with the crucial data.

But it didn’t. Having noted, en passant, that the absence of blood pressure and cholesterol made it impossible to determine anything about my actual ‘heart age’, it then encouraged me to carry on with the test. Because, um, interactive! Which is the future, you know. Plus if I kept pressing buttons it could lecture me about a heart-healthy diet. This is the same health service that spent decades nagging us to eat low-fat, high-sugar foodstuffs that clogged up our arteries quicker than clotted cream.

And, unbelievably, I did end up with a computer-generated heart age: ‘About 61’ – which was depressing, because I’m jolly well not in my 60s. True, the fine print had advised me that the result was ‘not personal to you’ and therefore completely bloody meaningless. But no one likes being told they might have a dodgy ticker. I wonder how many chaps will now head off to their GPs demanding urgent bypasses on the basis of nothing more than a digital con-trick. Just thinking about the waste of precious resources makes my heart pound. Now where did I put my statins?


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