More than 650 lives a year could be saved if there was full take-up of NHS health checks, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

Thinking about personal health at an early stage is vital to living a long and prosperous life, he said.

Public Health England is stepping up efforts to improve provision and take-up of the checks.

A PHE review says checking 40-74-year-olds’ blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and lifestyle could identify problems earlier and prevent 650 deaths, 1,600 heart attacks and 4,000 cases of diabetes a year.

Before local authorities took over responsibility for commissioning the checks in April, there was considerable variation in how widely they were offered.

PHE, which leads the NHS Health Check programme, has launched a 10-point plan to help councils provide them to 20 per cent of their eligible local population a year - 15 million people by 2018-19.

PHE will also soon launch a website where it will be possible to show how many health check offers are being made by each local authority. In the future it will also be possible to look up the details of one’s nearest health check service.

Mr Hunt said: “Around 15 million people in England are eligible for a free NHS Health Check that could identify serious conditions early and add years to their life.

“I’d like to see all 40-74 year olds taking up this potentially life-saving opportunity. And I’d like to see the NHS and local authorities encouraging people in their area to get involved. We could save 650 lives a year if there was full take-up.

“We are an ageing population and thinking about our health early is vital to living a long and prosperous life.”

Director of health and wellbeing for Public Health England, Kevin Fenton, said: “NHS Health Check programme offers a real opportunity to reduce avoidable deaths and disability, and tackle health inequalities in England.

“We must do more to increase uptake and referral to appropriate risk management services, particularly in those communities at greatest risk, to remove blocks in processes that get in the way and make sure the programme is of consistent high quality across the country.

“We will establish an expert clinical and scientific advisory panel to review and advise on the evidence base and we will work with partners to develop a research and analysis programme to support the delivery and evaluation of the programme at both local and national levels.”

Between 2010 and 2020 the number of people aged 65 and over is expected to rise by 27 per cent with the number of those aged 85 and over rising by 44 per cent.

The programme is for people aged 40-74 in England and is focused on preventing conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease.

Primary care trusts began offering the checks in 2009 but access to them has been patchy.

Moves to improve the number and quality of checks were welcomed by charities Diabetes UK, the British Liver Trust and Heart UK.

Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said: “The NHS Health Check programme has the potential to reduce mortality, save money and improve the health of our nation by spotting risk factors before health conditions develop. For those people who already have a health condition, this can be found and treated early to prevent further complications.

“There are many common risk factors for these three conditions, such as being overweight or having high blood pressure, and these are tested in the programme. So we are pleased to be joining other charities in welcoming Public Health England’s move to make this health check more widely available.”

The charities had previously raised concerns about inconsistent implementation of the checks.

Barbara Young, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: “The NHS Health Check is a unique opportunity to prevent and identify serious health conditions so we have been disappointed in the past that too few people were getting the opportunity to be risk-assessed and signposted to interventions or treatment in this way.

“This review outlines the potential of the programme, to prevent 4,000 people from developing Type 2 diabetes each year, and highlights some important steps to make sure that these results are achieved.

“We are delighted Public Health England is taking the NHS Health Check programme seriously and we are particularly pleased to see it is committing to a target of 75 per cent uptake of the programme per year. These conditions can have a devastating effect on people’s lives and the basic fact is that the more people who have an NHS Health Check, the more lives can be saved.”

Jules Payne, chief executive of Heart UK, said: “To see the NHS focusing its efforts on preventing health conditions, instead of solely treating them, is extremely positive. The check makes contact with patients at just the right time - when there is still an opportunity to change lifestyle behaviours such as eating or drinking habits and levels of physical activity which could then mean that they avoid developing serious health conditions such as coronary heart disease.

“We are looking forward to seeing the roll-out of this programme and will continue to work with Public Health England to explore how the action plan can be delivered in practice because we are committed to helping prevent early deaths attributed to heart disease.”