MidMeds Social | October




Links to articles featured throughout the MidMeds social media network in October 2016


Monday 31st October

A group of MPs says the government is incorrect to keep claiming it is allocating an extra £10bn to the NHS in England over the next five years.

The Health Committee has written to the chancellor to say using the figure gives the "false impression that the NHS is awash with cash".

The group said the figure was closer to £4.5bn and called for more NHS funding in November's Autumn Statement.

But the government insisted the £10bn figure was accurate.

The Health Select Committee, chaired by Dr Sarah Wollaston, has been hearing evidence over recent months on the state of NHS finances.

Its letter says what it was told by senior NHS figures "clearly demonstrated the financial pressure facing the NHS".

But it warned that "the extent of this pressure is not sufficiently recognised" by government.

'Enormous strain'

Ministers regularly state that there will be £10bn extra in funding for the NHS by 2020-21.

The £10bn figure is calculated in real terms once inflation has been taken into account and includes £2bn which was announced in the last Parliament.

The health committee said in July that it calculated the true figure to be about £4.5bn.

Dr Wollaston, Tory MP for Totnes, told BBC Radio Four's Today programme that the head of the NHS had been "very clear" about what the organisation needed, but the government was not delivering.

Read more: here (External link)


Friday 28th October

The government is expected to fall well short of its target of recovering £500m a year from overseas visitors treated in NHS hospitals in England.

The Department of Health has "refined" to £346m its target for 2017-18, says the National Audit Office. Some £289m was paid in 2015-16; £73m in 2012-13.

A new "surcharge" for non-EU patients accounts for much of the rise, but only about half of debts owed are recovered.

The Department of Health said the increase showed "very good progress".

NHS Trusts in England are legally obliged to check whether patients are eligible for free non-emergency NHS treatment and to recover any costs from overseas patients.

'Unreliable' data

People from the European Economic Area (EEA), and Switzerland, are usually covered by agreements such as the EHIC scheme - where their government is billed for their treatment - while those from outside the EEA are invoiced directly.

But the National Audit Office report estimated that only half of debts were recovered from patients from outside the EEA and found that only 58% of hospital doctors knew some people were chargeable for NHS healthcare at all.

The Department of Health's "ambitious" £500m recovery target was aimed at reducing NHS trusts' deficits, which reached £2.45bn in 2015-16.

That year, an extra £164m was raised from a new £200-a-year surcharge on visa applications paid by temporary migrants from outside the EEA.

That year also saw a 53% increase on the amount NHS trusts in England charged directly to patients, mostly to visitors from outside the EEA - much of which is thought to be due to new rules that allow hospitals to charge up to 150% of the cost of treatment, rather than a case of more people being charged.

And although amounts charged to people visiting from countries within the EEA increased slightly, they remain "well below" the ambition to recover £200m a year by 2017-18. The latest forecast for EEA income for that period is £72m.

Read more: here (External link)


Thursday 27th October

Scientists are planning to release an army of millions of modified mosquitoes in areas of Brazil and Colombia.

They say the unusual approach is an attempt to provide "revolutionary protection" against mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika and chikungunya.

The mosquitoes are infected with a bug called Wolbachia which reduces their ability to spread viruses to people.

The $18m dollar project is funded by an international team of donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Vaccinating mosquitoes"

The scheme - which aims to start in early 2017 - is also financed by local governments in Latin America, the US and the UK.

Wolbachia is a naturally occurring bacterium that infects 60% of insect species worldwide, but scientists say it does not harm humans.

The bug does not usually infect the Aedes aegypti mosquito - the species mostly responsible for spreading a host of diseases such as Zika, dengue fever and cikungunya.

But over the last decade researchers working for the Eliminate Dengue Program have found a way to inject the bug into Aedes mosquitoes.

And researchers say small-scale observational trials in Brazil, Colombia, Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam have shown that once released, the modified mosquitoes can cut the spread of dengue to humans.

It has been shown to do the same for Zika and chikungunya in laboratory-based tests.

Dr Trevor Mundel, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said: "Wolbachia could be a revolutionary protection against mosquito-borne disease.

"It's affordable, sustainable, and appears to provide protection against Zika, dengue and a host of other viruses.

"We are eager to study its impact and how it can help countries."

Read more: here (External link)


Wednesday 26th October

Giving mums and dads the skills to become "super parents" can dramatically improve their child's autism, a long-term study has shown.

In the training, parents watched films of themselves playing with their child while a therapist gave precise tips for helping their child communicate.

"What is remarkable is the pay-off," said Louisa Harrison, who has seen a huge improvement in her son Frank.

Experts said the results, published in the Lancet, were "hugely cheering".

The study focused on children with severe autism, who were often unable to talk to their parents.

For Louisa's son Frank, lamp-posts were a marker of his progress using the method.

Louisa, from Cheshire, said: "He loves watching lamp-posts come on in our street, so autumn is a very exciting time for us.

Read more: here (External link)


Tuesday 25th October

Women have caught up with men in the amount of alcohol they drink and are doing increasing amounts of damage to their health as a result, according to a global study that looked at the consumption habits of four million people over a period of over a century.

The change is partly the result of successful marketing campaigns and the creation of sweeter products aimed at young women or girls, as well as cuts in price, say health campaigners. Some studies have even suggested that younger women may be out-drinking men, according to the study’s authors.
Female distillers prove women know their alcohol – and always have
Read more
The researchers from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre of the University of New South Wales, Australia, say the conclusion is that public health efforts need to focus more on women.

“These results have implications for the framing and targeting of alcohol use prevention and intervention programmes. Alcohol use and alcohol-use disorders have historically been viewed as a male phenomenon. The present study calls this assumption into question and suggests that young women in particular should be the target of concerted efforts to reduce the impact of substance use and related harms,” they say.

Their analysis, published in the journal BMJ Open, looks at the convergence of drinking habits between men and women over time, from 1891 to 2014. It pools the results of 68 international studies, published since 1980, to look at the changing ratio of male to female drinking over the years.

Read more: here (External link)


Monday 24th October

Women over 45 do not need a blood test to diagnose the menopause and X-rays are no real help to those with lower back pain, doctors have said.

The advice, drawn up by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, features on a list of 40 treatments that bring little or no benefit to patients.

The list is part of a campaign to reduce the number of unnecessary medical treatments.

Patients are also encouraged to ask more questions about procedures.

Medical experts from 11 different specialties were asked to identify five treatments or procedures commonly used in their field that were not always necessary or valuable.

These have been used as part of the Choose Wisely campaign to highlight the need for patients and doctors to talk frankly about how health issues should be treated.

The advice includes:

  • Tap water is just as good for cleaning cuts and grazes as saline solution
  • Small wrist fractures in children do not normally need a plaster cast, and will heal just as quickly with a removable splint
  • Children with bronchiolitis, or breathing problems, usually get better without treatment
  • Electronic monitoring of a baby's heart is only needed during labour if the mother has a higher-than-normal risk of complications
  • Chemotherapy may be used to relieve symptoms of terminal cancer but it cannot cure the disease and may well bring further distress in the final months of life
  • Routine screening for prostate conditions using a test known as a Prostate Specific Antigen, or PSA test, does not lead to longer life and can bring unnecessary anxiety

The current list of treatments will be added to every year.

Read more: here (External link)


Friday 21st October

Thousands of High Street pharmacies in England could face closure after ministers confirmed plans to alter the funding system and make cuts.

The Department of Health said it wanted to reduce the £2.8bn a year pharmacy bill by more than £200m over the next two years.

It has been suggested cuts on this scale could lead to up to 3,000 of the 11,700 pharmacies being closed.

Currently, the average pharmacy receives £220,000 a year from the NHS.

This accounts for between 80% and 90% of their income and includes a flat rate of £25,000, which nearly all pharmacies receive.

The changes being announced scrap that and put much more emphasis on performance-related funding, with ministers understood to see the current system as outdated and inefficient.

Read more: here (External link)


Thusrday 20th October

An extra £240m for the NHS has been announced in the Welsh budget.

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford also promised £10m for a pilot scheme to provide 30 hours of free childcare for three and four year olds.

There are cuts to some areas of local government and community projects, plus the end of the £20m Schools Challenge Cymru scheme.

But total spending rose by 2.7% to £14.95bn, according to published figures.

Spending plans had been shaped by the "unprecedented challenges" posed by Brexit and the resulting loss of European funding, Mr Drakeford told the Senedd on Tuesday.

Read more: here (External link)


Tuesday 18th October

Thousands of patients taken to hospital by ambulance face long delays before being seen by accident and emergency staff, figures for England show.

Data obtained by Labour showed the number of waits of more than an hour had nearly trebled in two years.

NHS bosses blamed "increasing demand" for the problem - ambulances should be able to hand over patients to A&E staff within 15 minutes of arrival.

There were 76,000 waits over an hour in 2015-16, up from 28,000 in 2013-14.

The number of waits of more than 30 minutes rose by 60% over the same period, from 258,000 to nearly 413,000.

Ambulances made 4.7 million journeys to A&E units last year.

Read more: here (External link)


Monday 17th October

Parents in England whose children are injured at birth may benefit from a new government compensation scheme.

The voluntary scheme is intended to settle complaints more quickly and allow medical staff to speak openly about maternity care failings and learn from mistakes.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said, currently, families could wait more than 11 years for a court settlement.

He said he wanted speedier resolutions and to get away from a "blame culture".

But he insisted that parents who believe medical errors have caused severe damage to their children, such as cerebral palsy or brain damage, would still be able to take their cases to court if they wanted to.

The new Rapid Resolution and Redress scheme, which is out for consultation, would investigate the 500 cases of avoidable harm to babies, during birth, which happen each year in England.

Read more: here (External link)


Friday 14th October

A third of hospital trusts in England have increased their car parking charges in the last year, it is being reported.

The investigation by the Press Association news agency found some are now charging £4 for a one-hour stay.

It showed most trusts did not increase their charges, but the average rise among the third that did was 15%.

The analysis combines figures obtained from NHS trusts and data submitted to statistics body NHS Digital.

The most expensive trust in the country for a one-hour stay is the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford, where patients are forced to pay £4 for any stay up to two hours.

'Frequent trips'

Deputy chief executive Alf Turner said the charge was necessary to cover running costs and fund the expansion of the car park that is taking place.

"I do not like having to charge people for car parking and in an ideal world we would not have to," he added.

At the other end of the scale, car parking at Trafford General Hospital in Greater Manchester is free for up to three hours.

Some trusts allow patients and visitors to park for free for the first 30 minutes before charges start.

But others have scrapped cheaper charges for short stays, meaning people have to pay a flat fee covering up to three hours even if they are only staying for 45 minutes.

Read more: here (External link)


Thursday 13th October

Waiting times in A&E units in England this summer have been worse than every winter for the past 12 years bar one, figures show.

The colder months have traditionally been the most difficult for hospitals.

But pressures have grown so much that this summer saw one in 10 patients wait for over four hours in A&E during June, July and August.

Only last winter saw a worse performance since the target started in 2004, figures from NHS England showed.

During the summer months 90.6% of patients were seen in four hours. Hospitals are meant to deal with 95% in four hours.

The data also showed hospitals are missing a number of other key targets for cancer, routine operations and ambulance response times.

And the delays hospitals experienced in August discharging patients reached a record high. There were over 188,000 days of delays - a 30% rise on the same month the year before.

These delays occur when there are no services available in the community to care for frail patients on release.

Dr Mark Holland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said the figures once again showed the NHS was locked in an "eternal winter".

"The NHS is on its knees and, this winter, areas will implode around the country. There is no reserve left.

"Over the coming weeks and months, if we see a major increase in admissions due to flu or bed closures due to norovirus, we will collapse."

Read more: here (External link)


Wednesday 12th October

The number of hospital admissions for allergic reactions and anaphylactic shocks in England has increased by more than a third in the past five years.

Data from NHS Digital shows there were 29,544 hospital admissions in 2015-16 for allergic reactions.

That compares to 22,206 admissions in 2011-12.

Doctors say rising levels of cleanliness have lowered people's natural resistance to bacteria and dust which cause common allergies.

"The fact that we're living in a much cleaner world than a hundred years ago is the main factor behind the rise in the number of admissions for allergies," Dr Donald Hodge from the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust said.

"We've seen a huge increase in the number of referrals for children who have developed allergies, and this is undoubtedly because living in a cleaner world has lowered our ability to build up a resistance to substances like dust and pollen."

Read more: here (External link)


Friday 7th October

Doctors at St Bartholomew's Hospital have warned of the dangers of giving children complementary therapies after a four-year-old boy ended up in A&E.

The boy had been taking 12 different holistic supplements from a naturopath (natural health practitioner) supposedly to help treat his autism.

The supplements included vitamin D, camel's milk, silver and Epsom bath salts.

He developed a potentially fatal condition but made a full recovery.

Dr Catriona Boyd and Dr Abdul Moodambail, writing in the British Medical Journal Case Reports, said it was not until the boy had been in the London hospital for several days that his mother told them about the holistic supplements, which he had been taking for a number of months.

They said the parents were "devastated that something they had given to their son with good intent had made him so unwell".

"The situation was stark because the child developed vitamin D toxicity leading to very high calcium levels, making the child quite unwell and this can even be fatal as well," Dr Moodambail told the BBC.

The boy had been suffering from symptoms for three weeks including vomiting, weight loss and excessive thirst. He had lost 6.6lbs (3kg) in weight in three weeks and was very dehydrated.

He was treated with hyperhydration and medications to reduce his calcium level and made a full recovery in two weeks.

Read more: here (External link)


Wednesday 6th October

Human life spans may be limited to a maximum of about 115 years, claim US scientists.

Their conclusions, published in the journal Nature, were made by analysing decades of data on human longevity.

They said a rare few may live longer, but the odds were so poor you'd have to scour 10,000 planet Earths to find just one 125-year-old.

But while some scientists have praised the study, others have labelled it a dismal travesty.

Life expectancy has been increasing relentlessly since the nineteenth century - due to vaccines, safer childbirth and tackling killers like cancer and heart disease.

Read more: here (External link)


Tuesday 4th October

The number of medical school places will increase by 25% from 2018 under plans to make England "self-sufficient" in training doctors.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to announce an expansion in training places from 6,000 to 7,500 a year.

He believes increasing the number of home-grown doctors will be essential given the ageing population.

There is also concern it will become more difficult to recruit doctors trained abroad in the future.

About a quarter of the medical workforce is trained outside the UK, but the impact of Brexit and a global shortage of doctors could make it harder to recruit so many in the future.

Prime Minister Theresa May told the BBC: "We want to see the NHS able to recruit doctors from this country. We want to see more British doctors in the NHS."

The increase also comes after the health secretary has spent a year at loggerheads with junior doctors over the pressures being placed on them to fill rota gaps.

Medical degrees take five years to complete, so it will be 2024 before the impact of these extra places is felt.

Read more: here (External link)


Monday 3rd October

A campaign that aims to tackle the stigma around mental health has been given £20m in funding from the Department of Health, Comic Relief and the Big Lottery Fund.

The Time To Change initiative, run by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, works with schools, employers and local communities to reduce discrimination and raise awareness.

It has received £30m in funding so far.

More than 800 schools and almost 400 employers have taken part.

The charities say that as a result of the campaign, the proportion of people reporting discrimination as a result of mental health issues has dropped from 42% to 28%.

Earlier this week, data from NHS Digital revealed that young women are the highest risk group in England for mental health problems.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "Tackling the stigma associated with mental health problems is essential if we are to break down barriers and encourage people to seek help before they reach crisis point.

"Time To Change is already making a difference, but with recent studies showing that just 50% of people seek help following a suicide attempt, it's clear that we still have major work to do."

Jo Loughran, interim director of Time To Change, said: "Since Time To Change began, we've made real progress in transforming public attitudes and empowering thousands of people to tackle discrimination, but we've always said that this is the work of a generation and there's still more work to be done."

Read more: here (External link)