Tesco under fire for Clubcard health scansSupermarket criticised for 'inappropriate' offer

04 September 2009

Doctors coat

Some medical benefits are tax free

Supermarket giant Tesco has been criticised for offering vouchers for health scans through its Clubcard loyalty scheme.

The Society of Radiographers (SOR) has questioned the supermarket's decision to offer health checks in exchange for Clubcard vouchers. It said the promotion for CT scans - which use X-rays to help detect tumours and other illnesses - did not make risks from radiation exposure clear and was 'inappropriate' for the retailer.

Which? says

Dr Rob Reid, scientific policy advisor at Which?, said: 'Health screens performed on the well cannot give a clean bill of health and can lead to unnecessary concern or ill-advised reassurance. Experts believe that the potential harm from CT scans outweighs the potential benefits when used on people with no symptoms.

'Which? therefore thinks it is inadvisable for Tesco to be promoting the use of such scans through its Clubcard scheme.'

Health scan concerns

SOR is also concerned that the scans could cause unnecessary worry if apparent abnormalities found in otherwise healthy people proved harmless. Chief executive Richard Evans told the BBC: 'I wouldn't want to underplay the sense of relief if something positive and dangerous is found and dealt with in good time.

'However, for every one of those there'll be an untold number who are taking up a GP appointment slot for no real reason, who are suffering unnecessary anxiety.'

But Tesco said that Lifescan - the company providing the health check service through the Clubcard scheme - employ qualified staff who explained the risks to customers. A spokesman told the BBC: 'Lifescan are an experienced provider of such services employing qualified professional staff to advise on and undertake all scans and providing all customers with a full explanation of the service and any risks involved.'

Radiation risks

Lifescan has rejected SOR's criticisms, and claims that only low doses of radiation are involved in the scans they offer. Medical director Dr John Giles likened the amount of radiation involved in a heart, lung and colon scan to living in Cornwall for a year.

'There's no evidence of any harmful effect from that kind of exposure, otherwise I suppose we'd have to have health warnings up on the signs driving into Cornwall', he added.

SOR recognise Lifescan as a reputable firm operating in this medical area, but believes more information about the scans should be provided earlier in the decision-making process, at the Clubcard stage - a position backed by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment, and supported by health campaigners here at Which?.

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