MidMeds Social – January 2017



MidMeds Social | January 2017




Links to articles featured throughout the MidMeds social media network in January 2017


Thursday 9th January

Record numbers of patients spent more than four hours in accident and emergency units in England in January, figures leaked to the BBC suggest.

During a difficult winter for the NHS, January appears to be the worst performing month since the four-hour target was introduced.

The figures also suggest record numbers of people waited longer than 12 hours for a hospital bed once seen in A&E.

The BMA said the prime minister could no longer "bury her head in the sand".

And it accused the government of failing to grasp the seriousness of the situation in the NHS.

But a spokesman from the Department of Health said the vast majority of patients were seen and treated quickly, and busy periods in hospitals were supported by an extra £400 million of funding.

The figures come from a document compiled by NHS Improvement, a regulator in England.

It appears to show that from a total of more than 1.4 million attendances at A&E during January:

  • 82% of patients in A&E - rather than the target 95% - were transferred, admitted or discharged within four hours
  • more than than 60,000 people waited between four and 12 hours in A&E for a hospital bed, after a decision to admit, known as a "trolley wait"
  • more than 780 people waited for more than 12 hours for a bed

These are the worst monthly figures on record since the four-hour target was introduced in 2004.

In January 2016, more than 51,000 people had "trolley waits" of between four and 12 hours and 158 people had waits of more than 12 hours.

Read more: here (External link)


Tuesday 31st January

The number of patients placed in mixed-sex wards in England has risen by almost 70% in the last year.

Statistics from NHS England show 7,163 patients were put in the wards in 2016, up from 4,248 in 2015.

In April 2011, fines were introduced to try to eradicate the problem, leading to a fall from thousands per month to hundreds.

The Patients Association said the rise was "concerning" and that the wards should be scrapped.

Its chief executive Katherine Murphy said single-sex wards are an "important component of preserving patient dignity" in hospitals.

"It is really concerning that over the past year there has been a sharp increase in the number of patients being placed on mixed-sex wards, as a result of mounting hospital pressures," she said.

"Protecting standards of patient safety must remain at the very heart of the NHS and eliminating mixed-sex hospital accommodation is central part of this."

Since April 2011, trusts have been fined £250 when a patient is placed on a mixed-sex ward and since the previous year, statistics have been published on how many breaches of the mixed-sex accommodation rules there have been each month.

In December 2010, there were 11,802 breaches and this dropped to 907 in December 2011 and 314 in the same month in 2012.

In 2014 there was a total of 2,585 patients placed on mixed-sex wards - a figure which increased by 177% in 2016.

Read more: here (External link)


Monday 30th January

UK prices for generic cancer drugs have risen sharply in the past five years, restricting their use in treating NHS patients, research from the European Cancer Congress has found.

Drugs such as tamoxifen and bulsufan are now 10 times more expensive despite no longer being under patent.

The British Generic Manufacturers Association said trusts often paid much less than the list price.

The Department for Health said it has plans to cut generic drug costs.

The UK researchers said NHS negotiations with drug companies were failing to contain costs, and getting access to cheaper drugs would allow more people to be treated with more modern medicines.

They estimated that the cost of these price rises to the NHS in England was around £380m a year - which only included community-based prescribing, not hospital prescribing.

Read more: here (External link)


Tuesday 24th January

A "very high" air pollution warning has been issued for London for the first time under a new alert system.

Warnings are being issued at bus stops, roadside signs and Tube stations under the new system set up by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The rise has been attributed to cold, calm and settled weather, meaning winds are not dispersing local pollutants.

The mayor said "the shameful state of London's toxic air" meant he had to trigger the alert.

"This is the highest level of alert and everyone - from the most vulnerable to the physically fit - may need to take precautions to protect themselves from the filthy air," he said.

A spike in pollution on Sunday was the highest level recorded since April 2011.

Read more: here (External link)


Friday 20th January

Babies build knowledge about the language they hear even in the first few months of life, research shows.

If you move countries and forget your birth language, you retain this hidden ability, according to a study.

Dutch-speaking adults adopted from South Korea exceeded expectations at Korean pronunciation when retrained after losing their birth language.

Scientists say parents should talk to babies as much as possible in early life.

Dr Jiyoun Choi of Hanyang University in Seoul led the research.

The study is the first to show that the early experience of adopted children in their birth language gives them an advantage decades later even if they think it is forgotten, she said.

''This finding indicates that useful language knowledge is laid down in [the] very early months of life, which can be retained without further input of the language and revealed via re-learning,'' she told BBC News.

In the study, adults aged about 30 who had been adopted as babies by Dutch-speaking families were asked to pronounce Korean consonants after a short training course.

Korean consonants are unlike those spoken in Dutch.

The participants were compared with a group of adults who had not been exposed to the Korean language as children and then rated by native Korean speakers.

Both groups performed to the same level before training, but after training the international adoptees exceeded expectations.

There was no difference between children who were adopted under six months of age - before they could speak - and those who were adopted after 17 months, when they had learned to talk.

Read more: here (External link)


Thursday 19th January

Scientists have named three relatively little-known diseases they think could cause the next global health emergency.

A coalition of governments and charities has committed $460m to speed up vaccine development for Mers, Lassa fever and Nipah virus.

They are asking funders at the World Economic Forum Davos for another $500m.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) aims to have two new experimental vaccines ready for each disease within five years.

New vaccines usually take about a decade to develop and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, closely followed by the Zika epidemic in Latin America, exposed just how "tragically unprepared" the world is for new outbreaks.

Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, one of the founding members of Cepi, said: "Before the 2014 outbreak we only had very small Ebola epidemics that were in isolated communities that we were able to control.

"But in the modern world with urbanisation and travel, 21st Century epidemics could start in a big city and then take off the way Ebola did in West Africa.

Read more: here (External link)


Wednesday 18th January

A new type of ‘three-person IVF’ has allowed a previously infertile couple to have a baby in a world first.

The baby boy was born in Ukraine using a technique known as pronuclear transfer, a method experts have called “highly experimental”.

Doctors in Kiev fertilised the mother’s egg with the father’s sperm, and then placed the combined cells into an egg donated by a third woman, reported The Times.

‘Three-person IVF’ has previously been used to prevent babies from inheriting serious genetic disorders, but this is the first time it has been used to treat infertility.

Valery Zukin, director of Kiev’s Nadiya clinic, told The Times the technique could in future be used to help woman in their 40s give birth using their own eggs.

However, scientists have warned the treatment has not been scientifically tested and as such could be unsafe or give women false hope.

“It’s like the opening of a new era,” said Dr Zukin, adding the treatment could help women who experience a condition known as embryo arrest, which affects around one in 150 IVF patients and causes embryos to stop growing before they can be implanted.

Dr Zukin shared a video on his Facebook page yesterday of an IVF fertilisation in progress, with congratulatory messages posted underneath by his contacts.

Read more: here (External link)


Tuesday 17th January

Artificial intelligence can predict when patients with a heart disorder will die, according to scientists.

The software learned to analyse blood tests and scans of beating hearts to spot signs that the organ was about to fail.

The team, from the UK's Medical Research Council, say the technology could save lives by finding patients that need more aggressive treatment.

The results were published in the journal Radiology.

The researchers, at the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences, were investigating patients with pulmonary hypertension.

High blood pressure in the lungs damages part of the heart, and about a third of patients die with five years of being diagnosed.

There are treatments: drugs, injections straight into the blood vessels, a lung transplant.

But doctors need to have an idea of how long patients might have left, in order to pick the right treatment.

Machine learning

The software was given MRI scans of 256 patients' hearts, and blood test results.

It measured the movement of 30,000 different points in the organ's structure during each a heartbeat.

When this data was combined with eight years of patient health records, the artificial intelligence learned which abnormalities predicted when patients would die.

The software could look about five years into the future.

It correctly predicted those who would still be alive after one year about 80% of the time. The figure for doctors is 60%.

Read more: here (External link)


Wednesday 11th January

Nurses say conditions in the NHS are the worst they have experienced, the Royal College of Nursing has said.

In a separate move, 50 leading doctors have warned the prime minster in a letter that lives are being put at risk due to mounting pressures on the NHS.

Charities working with elderly people said long-term solutions were needed, with a similar call from a group of Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem MPs.

Health officials said they were investing more in care.

'Over-full hospitals'

The fresh calls for government action come a day after documents leaked to the BBC showed record numbers of patients are facing long waits in A&Es in England.

The document compiled by regulator NHS Improvement shows this winter is proving to be the most difficult for more than a decade, with nearly a quarter of patients waiting longer than four hours in A&E last week.

Janet Davies, chief executive at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said she had heard from frontline nurses who wanted to give the best care they could to their patients but were told to discharge them before they were fit just to free up beds.

One sister in charge of a major treatment centre in accident and emergency, told the RCN: "At one point our treatment area, meant for 20 patients, had 56 patients crowded in corridors and around the nursing station.

"Our resuscitation room built for six regularly had seven."

The college said nurses from Scotland to London had reported serious concerns about the quality of care they were able to provide.

Meanwhile a letter from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), called for urgent investment to help "over-full hospitals with too few qualified staff".

Read more: here (External link)


Monday 9th January

Theresa May has rejected claims from the Red Cross that there is a "humanitarian crisis" in the NHS.

The prime minister acknowledged there were "huge pressures" on the health service and said No 10 had provided the funding requested.

Mrs May told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme that funding was "now at record levels for the NHS".

Labour has called on the PM to appear at the Commons on Monday to discuss the "crisis" in social care and hospitals.

Mrs May said the health service was facing problems with an ageing population and that was why it was important a plan was put in place.

She told Sky News: "We have taken some immediate steps in relation to that issue but we are also looking to ensure best practice in the NHS and looking for a long-term solution."

She said it was a problem that had been "ducked by government over the years".

Mrs May did not confirm she would discuss the NHS on Monday but said she would be targeting the "huge stigma" attached to mental health in the UK.

Read more: here (External link)


Friday 6th January

If research suggesting that people who live close to major roads could have a higher risk of dementia has prompted thoughts of clean, traffic-free countryside living, then you are probably not alone.

But what is the reality? Is a rural existence better for our health?

Like the causes of dementia itself, it is not a straightforward question and there are no clear-cut answers.

On the face of it, fleeing to the countryside seems like a good idea.

Less than a quarter of the UK population lives there for a start.

The air is cleaner, there is less traffic and air pollution - which increases the risk of stroke, lung cancer, heart disease and respiratory diseases - is not an issue.

There is also more opportunity to get out and exercise in all that open space - remember those long dog walks you have been fantasising about - and enjoy being surrounded by greenery.

Read more: here (External link)


Thursday 5th January

A malaria vaccine that uses a weakened form of the parasite has passed a "critical milestone" in human safety trials, say researchers.

Doctors used a genetically modified form of malaria that was unable to cause a full infection in people.

Trials, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, suggested it was safe and generated a good immune response.

Tropical disease experts described the findings as "promising".

The malaria parasite goes through multiple stages both in mosquitoes and inside the human body.

The team at the Centre for Infectious Disease Research, in Seattle, deleted three genes from the parasite so it could not infect liver cells.

The idea is that "infecting" people with the weakened parasite will expose the immune system to malaria, but the parasite will not be able to complete its lifecycle to cause disease.

Ten people took part in the safety trials. No-one went on to develop the disease and there were no severe side-effects to the treatment.

The patients' antibodies were then given to mice, which showed greater immunity when they were deliberately infected with malaria.

Dr Sebastian Mikolajczak, one of the researchers, said: "The clinical study now shows that the vaccine is completely attenuated in humans and also shows that even after only a single administration, it elicits a robust immune response against the malaria parasite.

"Together these findings are critical milestones for malaria vaccine development."

There are two similar approaches to "attenuating" the malaria parasite - one involves weakening it by exposing it to radiation and the other gives the patient anti-malarial drugs at the same time as infecting them.

Read more: here (External link)


Wednesday 4th January

What do you think of when you think of city life? Working hard and playing hard? Being on the move 24 hours a day among the brightly coloured lights, manoeuvring through crowds while avoiding eye contact? Traffic jams and hooting horns, stimulation and frustration?

And out of the city? Peacefulness, starlight, space, tedium? An advertisement for a holiday break in Cornwall talks of “the importance of slowing down – escaping city life”.

It doesn’t have to be like this, but only if employers start to move towards the gains that are there for the taking.

City life is indeed fast. This has been studied using walking speed as a proxy: between the early 1990s and 2006, average city walking speed increased by 10%, with the biggest changes in Guangzhou (China) and Singapore.

And while working hours are not necessarily longer overall in cities than in rural areas (where proportionately more people are self-employed or work from home), certainly high-pressure industries such as finance and insurance, where all-night and weekend work is expected, are concentrated in cities.

Overworking is bad for our health and wellbeing. The Mental Health Foundationsays that “the pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture in the UK is perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population”.

Read more: here (External link)



Tuesday 3rd January

Children are packing in so much sugar at breakfast that half their daily allowance has already been eaten before school, Public Health England says.

It warns that sugary cereals, juices and spreads are all damaging to health.

Rotting teeth, ballooning waistlines and long-term health problems like type 2 diabetes are caused by unhealthy diets.

Officials are encouraging parents to use an app that reveals the sugar content of food and drink.

Around a quarter of five-year-olds have tooth decay and nearly a fifth of children are already obese by the time they leave primary school.

Sugar is the prime culprit with the National Diet and Nutrition Survey showing four- to 10-year-olds consuming twice as much sugar as they should be.

A survey of 200 parents with children aged four to 10 revealed the problem starts at breakfast.

It found children were eating more than 11g of sugar or nearly three sugar cubes, on average, at breakfast alone.

That adds up to more than 1,000 cubes of sugar at breakfast over the course of a year.

Read more: here (External link)