(AFP) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown is to announce plans Monday for a new national screening programme to combat some of the country's biggest killer diseases, his office said.
The tests, similar to those currently available to private healthcare patients, will screen people using Britain's public National Health Service (NHS) for early signs of heart problems, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease.
Key diagnostic procedures such as blood tests, electro-cardiograms and ultrasounds will be available in local general practitioner surgeries to help cut hospital waiting times.
Brown's announcement, to an audience of healthcare professionals in London, will come in his first major speech on health since succeeding Tony Blair in June last year.
According to extracts of the speech released by his office in advance, Brown will call for a transformation of the NHS into a "personal and preventative health service", with patients and clinicians given more say and choice.
Government officials said the screening programme is the first of its kind in the world and improving healthcare remained their highest priority.
The NHS was set up by the then-Labour government in 1948, with the intention of providing free healthcare for all "from cradle to grave", funded through taxation. It is now Europe's biggest employer.
Brown will say that renewal of the service -- frequently criticised for inefficiency and variations in levels of care in different parts of Britain, although still staunchly defended by Britons -- is vital to meet new demands.
A number of newspapers Monday said that could include a greater role for the private sector, following a trend begun under Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.