Buyers guide to health screening

Employers can offer varying levels of health screening, despite some uncertainty around its tax status, says Sarah Coles

Health screening products come in a variety of guises. Employers’ decisions on which to offer will typically depend on the seniority of the employees they wish to cover. At the top end of the market, premier health screens, which are usually offered to senior executives, involve a head-to-toe check, including a full body MRI scan, ultrasound, and ECG; blood and urine tests; fitness, height and weight checks; blood pressure and cholesterol tests; and lifestyle and health discussions with a consultant. The whole process can take a day to complete, and cost as much as £1,000.

Further down the hierarchy, an executive test will exclude the MRI and ultrasound scans and offer less time with a consultant, for around £500.

For lower levels of management, meanwhile, organisations may offer a wellman or wellwoman check, which provides blood and urine analysis, cholesterol and blood pressure tests, height and weight measurements, and a short meeting with a doctor, at a cost of around £300. More widely, employers may opt to provide on-site checks on height, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as a brief chat with a doctor, which can cost around £50.

Organisations could also identify those at risk from a health and safety point of view, and conduct risk-specific checks. Employees working outside, for example, may be offered skin cancer screening.

Following the screen, information is fed back to the employee, and they are offered advice on how they can deal with issues that arise. This will alert them to potential health problems, helping to put their mind at rest, making them feel cared for, and improving their engagement with their employer. Peter Mace, assistant medical director of Bupa Wellness, says: “After a heath screening, three quarters of people make a significant lifestyle change as a result of what they’ve been told.”

If employers conduct 50 or more screenings, they may also receive generalised feedback on issues such as fitness, stress, and the wellbeing of employees. This can help to highlight health and safety issues, which, if left unchecked, could lead to legal challenges.

Over the past year, however, the tax status of health screening has been the subject of much uncertainty. New tax rules that came into force in August last year stated that, going forward, health screening would only be exempt from benefit-in-kind tax if it was made available to and funded for all employees. This was intended to encourage more employers to offer health screening across the board.

Dudley Lusted, head of corporate healthcare development at Axa PPP Healthcare, says: “HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) set out to make screening available to everyone, but didn’t think it through.”

The problem was that if an employer didn’t offer screening to everyone, individuals who may have received a £500 benefit for nothing in the past, would now have to pay 40% tax on it, which may well put many of them off from taking up the benefit.

In response to industry pressure, HMRC has since backtracked on the new rules and said that it will not collect the tax and national insurance contributions on health screening for 2007/08 where this would not have been due prior to August 2007.

It also invited employers and their representatives to comment on the proposed changes by 4 January, the results of which were still being analysed at the time of going to press.

Product File: Health screening

What is health screening?†

Health screening products provide a selection of tests which can include: full body MRI, ultrasound, ECG, blood and urine tests, fitness checks, height and weight measurements, blood pressure checks, cholesterol tests and lifestyle and health discussions with a consultant. These are designed to identify potential problems before they manifest themselves as sickness absence.

Where can employers get more information?

A list of health screening centres and details on the benefits of screening is available at Details on the tax status of health screening can be found at†

Who are the main providers?†

Axa PPP Healthcare, Bupa Wellness, Capita Health Solutions, HSA, Lorica, Nuffield Hospitals.