What the papers say – weekly digest (29/09/23)
Your weekly digest of the top healthcare stories, covering news published from 25/09/2023 – 29/09/2023.
A staggering £18billion is needed to rescue the beleaguered social care system, a hard-hitting report found. And £8billion must be pumped into the system imminently to cope with current demand, it says. The Health Foundation said the number of people in England awaiting assessment for care rose fourfold from 70,000 in September 2021 to 294,000 in April 2022. But spending on the sector grew by 2.6% a year in real terms from 2014/15 to 2021/22. Under current plans, a funding gap of £600 million will open up within the next year and by 2032/33, will have grown to £8.3billion.
Workplace absences have soared to the highest level in a decade, according to research. Staff called in sick for an average of 7.8 days over the past year. That is the highest rate in over 10 years and two days more than before the pandemic. Mental issues are the top cause of long-term sickness at 63%. Researchers who looked at 918 organisations employing 6.5million people found that three-quarters of employees took time off in the past year for stress. The vast majority of short-term absences were down to minor illnesses such as colds – and more than a third still gave Covid as a reason. The survey was carried out by the Chartered Institute for Professional Development (CIPD) and Simplyhealth.
More than one million hospital appointments have been axed in England due to NHS strikes since December, according to official data. The staggering figure was reached after junior doctors and consultants last week walked out together for the first time in NHS history. Some 26,802 staff were absent from work during the action’s peak last Wednesday. Health Secretary Steve Barclay called it a ‘’grim milestone’’. And the number of cancellations looks set to rise. Junior doctors and consultants will stage three days of joint strikes from next Monday. Doctors have promised to provide emergency cover.
An ‘’abysmal’’ lack of testing for lung conditions is costing the NHS in England £2.2billion a year, a report claims. Asthma + Lung UK said too many sufferers are not getting accurate diagnoses, which puts an avoidable strain on hospitals. It found 750,000 people in England have been wrongly told they have asthma. Professional service network PwC calculates this alone costs £132million a year. An NHS spokesman said it ‘’is inviting more than a million people for a lung cancer check while basic lung function tests are available at GP practices and diagnostic centres’’.
An antiviral drug used to treat Covid-19 could be linked to mutations in the virus, a study suggests. The medication molnupiravir works by causing changes in the bug’s genetic make-up. But Christopher Ruis, from the University of Cambridge, said: ‘’What we found is that in some patients this process does not kill all the viruses and some mutated viruses can spread.’’ Stephen Griffin, from University of Leeds, said: ‘’This drug is not immediately dangerous to individuals taking it.’’ The findings, from work by six study teams, is in the journal Nature.
Wealthier children suffered the steepest fall in mental health during the pandemic, researchers say. Youngsters whose parents were employed, stayed together and were highly educated suffered sharper declines. The research, by the University of Glasgow and other Institutions, found the gap between the mental health of poorer and wealthier children narrowed during Covid. The study, in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, emphasised that more needs to be done to help improve mental health in all age groups.
Most people feel that bereavement is often the ‘’elephant in the room’’ as it is hard to discuss, research suggests. A Co-op survey found that almost 60% of people find talking about death uncomfortable. To tackle fears around the ‘’taboo topic’’, Co-op Funeralcare installed an inflatable 11ft elephant by London’s Tower Bridge. The firm’s Gill Stewart, said ‘’talking about death is a topic that so greatly needs normalising’’. Lucy Harmer, of Cruse Bereavement Support, said: ‘’This research highlights the need for support for people struggling with grief.’’
Health experts are calling for a ‘’feminist approach’’ to cancer to eliminate inequalities as research revealed 800,000 women worldwide are dying needlessly every year because they are denied optimal care. Cancer is one of the biggest killers of women and ranks in their top three causes of premature deaths in almost every country on every continent. But gender inequality and discrimination are reducing women’s opportunities to avoid cancer risks and impeding their ability to get a timely diagnosis and quality care, according to a report published in the Lancet. A second study published in the Lancet Global Health suggests 1.5m premature ca\ncer deaths in women under 70 in 2020 could have been prevented with the elimination of exposures to key risk factors or via early detection and diagnosis. The research analysed premature deaths from cancer among women aged 30 to 69 and found a further 800,000 lives could be saved each year if all women had access to optimal cancer care. About 1.3 million women of all ages died in 2020 as a result of four of the major risk factors for cancer: tobacco, alcohol, obesity and infections. But the burden of cancer in women caused by these four risk factors is ‘’widely underrecognised’’, the report says.
Cities across Scotland are considering setting up their own safe injecting facilities as authorities in Glasgow gave the official go-ahead to the UK’s first drug consumption room. ‘’All eyes are on Glasgow,’’ said Allan Casey, Glasgow city council’s addictions convener, after the plans were approved yesterday morning by a joint committee of NHS and council officials. The proposal – which would allow addicts to administer their own drugs in a clean and safe environment under the supervision of health professionals – had been discussed for years, but can now be piloted after Scotland’s most senior law officer confirmed users would not be prosecuted. The Scottish government has guaranteed funding up until 2027, when the pilot will be evaluated.
The true toll of NHS strike cancellations could be two million, health leaders have claimed, with the financial cost forcing cutbacks to patient care. Official figures last night confirmed that the number of appointments and procedures delayed because of strikes had passed one million. Hospital bosses say that the true total could be double, because they avoid scheduling care for strike days. Strikes over pay were estimated to have cost more than £1 billion so far. Rory Deighton, of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘’This will hit already stretched NHS budgets and if this continues, it will either increase deficits or lead to cutbacks elsewhere.’’
Traumatised children in a young offender institution are talking to psychologists through the hatch in their cell doors as there are not enough guards to unlock them for therapy sessions, the Guardian has learned. Many of the teenagers have suffered childhood trauma, with an over-representation of autism, ADHD and other neurological disorders. ‘’Our ability to have children unlocked for sessions has decreased massively,’’ said Dr Radha Kothari, the principal clinical psychologist at HMP Feltham, which holds boys aged 15 to 18 who have committed the most serious crimes, including rape and murder. The Ministry of Justice was asked about staffing levels at Feltham but did not respond to the question. Instead, a Youth Custody Service spokesperson said: ‘’We are taking decisive action to deliver improvements at HMP and YOI Feltham and providing extra support to the governor.
Drinking some tea and coffee does not harm babies, but smoking is twice as bad as previously thought, according to research. The NHS recommends pregnant women should drink no more than 200mg of caffeine a day, equivalent to two cups of instant coffee or tea. They should also stop smoking. This is because drinking large amounts of caffeine and smoking have been linked with increased risk of pregnancy complications, premature birth and foetal growth restriction. But a study by Cambridge Academics has found no evidence that above-average caffeine intake throughout pregnancy is linked to pre-term birth or smaller babies. In contrast, the study calculated that women who smoked during pregnancy were almost three times more likely to give birth prematurely compared with non-smokers – more than double the previous estimate. It also found that babies born to mothers who smoked were four times more likely to be small for their gestational age, putting them at risk of serious complications including breathing difficulties and infections.
A £35 billion plan for 40 new hospitals is based on ‘’terrifically ambitious’’ presumptions and risks ending up with buildings that are ‘’too small and too crowded’’, senior MP’s have warned. The NHS in England has about 1,500 hospitals, many of which have old buildings in poor states of repair. In 2020 the government announced the New Hospital Programme, with a commitment to building 40 new hospitals by 2030. So far £3.7 billion has been earmarked, covering up to 2024-25 but the eventual cost is reportedly forecast to reach £35 billion – although ministers have publicly said only that the programme will ‘’represent more than £20 billion of new investment in hospital infrastructure’’. An NHS spokeswoman said that the health service had been working closely with the Department of Health ‘’to ensure future hospitals are designed to meet the needs of patients and staff.’’
A hospital trust may have put safety at risk after 24,000 letters from senior doctors to patients were never sent after they became lost in a computer system. Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is being investigated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). A routine inspection found that since 2018, thousands of letters from doctors that needed a sign-off from a senior member of staff were left unsent. Most of the letters related to discharge procedures, but a significant number were written by specialist clinics detailing specific care requirements for patients, the BBC reported. These could include scan and test results.
The launch of a prostate cancer screening test of ‘’unprecedented accuracy’’ helped to more than double the share price of Oxford BioDynamics yesterday. The EpiSwitch blood test has been validated in the United Stats and is now available, via private doctors, in the US and UK. Its launch was the culmination of almost a decade’s collaboration between the Oxford-based company, Imperial College London, the University of East Anglia and Imperial College NHS Trust. It followed trial results published in February which showed that the test could detect with 94 per cent accuracy the presence, or absence, of prostate cancer.
A gruelling therapy that is usually a treatment for blood cancers can slow the progression of a common type of multiple sclerosis, a new study suggests. Stem cell transplants aim to reset the immune system and researchers said they hoped that the treatment could become part of standard care for MS patients in future. By studying data on 174 patients in a national Swedish register who were treated with autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (aHSCT) between 2004 and 2020 they calculated that a patient had 1.7 relapses in the year before aHSCT treatment and would have one relapse every 30th year after treatment.
Wealthy westerners can get a new hangover cure in Dubai, the Gulf’s party capital. Private clinics are offering intravenous drips, the latest accessory for partying expats in the emirate known for being a millionaires’ playground. The IV drips contain fluids, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and pain relief. Clinics claim they are able to detoxify the body after a heavy night, providing rapid rehydration to eliminate the common signs of a hangover by sending the nutrients directly into the bloodstream in less than one hour. The ‘’magic’’ cures range from about £100 to £300.
The burden of long Covid may have been overestimated because of reliance on lower-quality research , a group of scientists has claimed. Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) said broad definitions of what constitutes long Covid, coupled with a ‘’striking absence of control groups’’ in many studies, meant data on the long-term effects and prevalence of Covid was unreliable.
More than two thirds of people who say that they are religious back the legislation of assisted dying, according to a new survey. A poll of 1,844 people found that 78 per cent of respondents would back a change in the law that would permit assisted dying for terminally ill people.