The top health clinics offering the ultimate human MOTs
By Lisa Grainger
I shouldn’t be nervous about stepping into Preventicum, just off Gray’s Inn Road in central London. Its intense-white interiors are not unlike those of hotels I regularly review and my spotless private day room even has a marble-clad shower and Dyson hairdryer. But I hate seeing doctors unless I’m really sick (the result of hundreds of vaccinations and tests as a child in Africa). I am not crazy about seeing blood (ditto). And I’ve heard the arguments of many in the NHS, including the award-winning GP-journalist Margaret McCartney, against private testing. Not just because they propagate a two-tier health system: one that gives the wealthy access to more than 90 private providers while more than six million wait on lists for NHS treatments, but also because many, as one GP put it, “offer tests not approved by national bodies, don’t inform patients of the risks of tests, and then dump patients on the NHS after having a test that’s not endorsed”.
When I blurt out my concerns to the centre’s medical director, she isn’t in the least bit surprised. Reem Hasan is a part-time NHS GP. “A lot of people think it’s a bad idea, and some colleagues in the NHS say I am conning people,” Dr Hasan says with reassuring honesty. “But I haven’t had a patient who has thought it’s a waste. If I find nothing, then they’re reassured. And if they are alerted to something, an early diagnosis generally means a better outcome.”
Since its UK launch in 2005, the clinic has seen about 15,000 patients. Some super-wealthy jet in from abroad, a third are corporate and two thirds are men, Hasan says. The clinic sees up to eight patients a day, each in their own room and given tests created specifically for them. Thankfully, for my check-up, because this centre doesn’t offer colonoscopies or X-rays unless tests show them to be necessary, I don’t have to consider those. But I say no to genetic testing; if my genes are found to be flawed, I don’t want that niggling knowledge with me for the rest of my life. Then I sign the consent forms, agreeing for them to be shared only with my GP, and spend the next six hours in the hands of 13 specialists.
There can be few centres in the UK serviced by such polished multinational staff and such high-tech multimillion-pound equipment as Preventicum (unsurprising, given its owner is the InHealth group, which provides high-tech scanning services to the NHS). Blood is taken for more than 50 tests and urine for analysis. Ultrasound wands are pressed against and into me. I am wired up to an echocardiogram and have an exercise stress test – on a treadmill and then resting (while, thrillingly, watching the inside of my heart beating). Hasan checks my body for dodgy moles and does an HPV test. And then I spend almost two hours in a sci-fi-like white cocoon having MRI scans from my bottom to my brain while watching a DVD of my choice on a small screen just above my eyes and, in theory, relaxing.
Of all the tests, that’s the most challenging, because I’ve chosen to watch a David Attenborough series and didn’t realise it featured tarantulas – and I’m not allowed to move in the scanner. Having proved the resilience of my nerves – if being locked in a tube for two hours with giant spiders doesn’t give me a heart attack, nothing will – I’m taken to see the leading consultant radiologist, Dr Syed Babar, who compares my (thankfully healthy) scans against those of people with aneurisms or tumours, to show the difference. Hasan then talks me through my (healthy) blood and urine results. A physio and a sports trainer check out my movement and posture, and tell me to keep up my daily walks and yoga. And I’m sent home with a faecal immunochemical test to check for bowel cancer.
The upshot? I am the owner of a thick folder of results and scans – and there’s nothing wrong with me. If something had been, I could have been referred to a private specialist or taken my file to my GP – who, after my recent NHS health check, gave me exactly the same advice as the knowledgeable and kindly Hasan: to top up my vitamin D, keep taking immune-boosting vitamin C and zinc, cut back my daily cake habit and perhaps drink a bit less. All good news, which I celebrated that night with a glass. And some cake. Tomorrow, Dr Hasan, tomorrow . . .