News round-up (1 September 2023)

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1st September 2023 about a 5 minute read

Some good news this week as the NHS increases its roll-out of free blood pressure checks, which will now be available in barber shops and mosques as well as pharmacies. Cancer patients are to benefit from receiving an immunotherapy drug as an injection rather than via an intravenous drip, while Labour is promising to pay GP practices more if they allow patients to see their preferred doctor. On the debit side, a new study finds that the UK is lagging behind comparable countries in the speed at which it discharges fit patients from hospital.

NHS to offer free blood pressure checks in barber shops

The NHS is to offer free blood pressure checks in community settings, including barber shops and mosques as well as pharmacies.

High blood pressure significantly increases the risk of heart attack or stroke, but many people do not realise they have it.

The aim of offering free blood pressure checks is to detect more cases of high blood pressure so that people can take preventive measures such as going on blood pressure medication or improving their diet.

Last year, high street pharmacies delivered 149,865 blood-pressure checks to over-40s in a single month. The new funding will see a further 2.5m blood-pressure checks in community pharmacies, which could prevent 1,350 heart attacks and strokes every year.

Safety experts NHS to give patients barcodes before surgery

Every hospital patient should be given a barcode and scanned before surgery to prevent medical mistakes, an expert organisation has said.

The aim is to prevent incidents where patients given faulty devices such as breast implants or replacement hips proved hard to trace. It would also make it easier to check whether a surgeon had left an implement inside a patient.

GS1 UK, a not-for-profit organisation responsible for barcode standards, wants the technology to be rolled out across the NHS, so that person, product and place are all tagged with barcodes ahead of surgery.

An NHS mandate earlier this year has already instructed trusts to use barcodes to track all high-risk medical devices such as pacemakers by next March.

Labour plans to offer GPs more money if patients see doctor of their choice

GP practices will be paid extra if they let patients see the doctor of their choice, the Labour Party has promised.

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said that if elected, Labour would give patients more control over how they receive care. Two-thirds of patients now either rarely or never see their preferred doctor, Labour says – compared with half in 2018.  One in six patients did not get an appointment at all the last time they tried, an analysis of NHS data shows.

Streeting said a Labour administration would give people the right to see the family doctor of their choice, with GPs paid more for respecting the wishes of their patients. Patients would also be able to choose whether their appointment was face-to-face or took place over the phone. The changes would not cost anything, because funding would be redistributed so that practices that did not respect patient preferences would receive less money.

Patients in England to be offered 7-minute cancer injection

Patients in England are to benefit from an injection that treats cancer in seven minutes.

After receiving approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the NHS will be the first health system in the world to offer the Atezolizumab injection to patients.

Atezolizumab, an immunotherapy drug, is usually administered via an intravenous drip but many patients a year will now receive it via an injection. It means that drug treatment times for some cancer patients will be cut by up to three-quarters.

The drug, also known as Tecentriq, treats lung, breast, liver and bladder cancers. It is given to about 3,600 patients in England each year, the majority of whom will now receive it via the injection rather than intravenously.

Ultra-processed food raises risk of heart attack and stroke

Ultra-processed food (UPF) significantly raises the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attacks and strokes, according to two separate studies.

The first study, carried out by the University of Sydney, tracked 10,000 women for 15 years. It found that those with the highest proportion of UPF in their diet were 39% more likely to develop high blood pressure than those with the lowest. This remained the case even after adjustment for the effect of salt, sugar and fat.

The second study, a meta-analysis of more than 325,000 men and women carried out by the Fourth Military Medical University in Xi’an, China, showed that those who ate the most UPF were 24% more likely to have cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, strokes and angina.

The people at least risk of heart problems were those for whom UPF made up less than 15% of their diet.

UK lags behind other countries in discharging patients

The UK lags behind many comparable countries in the speed at which it discharges medically fit patients from hospital, according to a new report from the Nuffield Trust.

Average lengths of hospital stay for UK patients compared well with other OECD countries, but the researchers found that it underperformed when measured against other health systems with a similarly low number of acute beds. The NHS was slower in sending patients home than Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, which all have a similar bed base, they noted. In the year to December 2022 the number of patients in hospital who were fit enough to leave but had yet to do so increased by 27%.

Although the government has announced plans to improve the discharge of patients from hospital into the community, the report said that “progress and delivery on these ambitions has been minimal” in England. It added that “insufficient capacity in community health and care services” had “beleaguered the system for years.”

The report drew on international data sets covering the UK and detailed analysis of England’s health service.