News round-up (10 March 2023)

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9th March 2023 about a 5 minute read

Some exciting news this week as NICE approves the use of the drug Wegovy, which has shown promising results in helping obese people achieve dramatic weight loss. The government has come under criticism for its “disappointing” response to the findings of the inquiry into the East Kent maternity scandal. Although it’s now three years since the start of lockdown, Covid is still very much with us, and the NHS will shortly be offering booster jabs to those over 75 and in care homes.

NICE authorises weight loss drug

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has authorised the use of the weight loss drug semaglutide to fight obesity.

The drug, known by the brand name Wegovy, works by taking over the body’s own appetite-regulating system in the brain, leading to people feeling less hungry and eating less.

Researchers have described the drug as “game-changing” after studies found that one-third of those taking it lost a fifth of their body weight. Those eligible for the drugs include those with a BMI of at least 35 and an obesity-related health problem, and some with a BMI of at least 30 if they meet the criteria for specialist treatment.

Wegovy, which is administered by injection, could now be offered to tens of thousands of people a year on the NHS.

NHS recruits volunteers to phone lonely people

The NHS is recruiting volunteers to take part in its “check in and chat” scheme, which involves phoning people who are lonely.

The scheme was originally introduced during the first lockdown as a way of supporting people who were shielding or isolating. It closed last May, but is now due to return after GPs said it could help those who had felt isolated since the pandemic. NHS chiefs said that 1,000 volunteers have already signed up.

GPs, pharmacists and other healthcare workers are being encouraged to request check in and chat support for patients who are socially isolated.

Integrated care system plans show £6bn deficit

The draft financial plans submitted by integrated care systems for 2023-24 suggest a budget deficit of approximately £6bn, HSJ has reported.

The figure is likely to drop as plans are scrutinised by NHS England, but the initial number is thought to be much worse than draft plans submitted in previous years. The draft plans for the Midlands region show a total deficit of £1.5bn, with initial figures for the North West showing a deficit of £1.4bn.

Official guidance states ICSs must each produce a balanced financial plan for next year. One senior source at an ICS told HSJ the deficit was the “biggest… by some way” they had seen at this stage in their 25 years in the NHS: “I’m sure the number will go down as we get more guidance but I think we will enter 2023-24 with big deficits. I expect the planning round to last until July.”

Maternity inquiry chair attacks government response

The government’s response to the East Kent maternity scandal inquiry has been described as “very disappointing” by Dr Bill Kirkup, who chaired the inquiry.

The response from health ministers, issued four months after the report was published, was brief and contained few specific proposals. It said that government was launching other reviews and was working with different agencies.

Kirkup said the response should have been “wider and deeper” and that government  had “not grasped how fundamental” some of the issues outlined in his report were, and “what sort of initiative” was needed to address them. He also said that it was a “big disappointment” that health secretary Steve Barclay had failed to discuss the inquiry in parliament, answering questions “on everything but this.”

Leeds Teaching Hospitals to pilot AI software in breast screening

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is to launch a first-of-its-kind trial using AI software within breast cancer screening.

The Leeds Investigation of Breast screening AI (LIBRA) pilot hopes to generate evidence for the safe use of AI in breast screening. It will also look at whether AI could increase cancer detection rates, reduce unnecessary patient recalls and ease workforce pressures.

The study will deploy an AI reader called Mia (Mammography Intelligent Assessment) that will work alongside two human readers to analyse mammograms for signs of cancer.

Currently, mammograms are seen by two radiologists. If they disagree on their readings, a third radiologist will review the mammogram before a decision is made on whether to recall a patient or not. In the LIBRA study, patients will receive the all-clear if both human readers and the AI software agree a mammogram is normal. If there are any disagreements, clinicians will carry out the review before a decision is made.

Spring booster jab to be offered to older people

Adults aged 75 and over, residents in a care home for older adults and immunosuppressed individuals will be eligible for a spring Covid booster.

NHS England is yet to confirm the start date for the spring programme, but eligible individuals will be offered the vaccine about six months after their previous dose.

Health secretary Steve Barclay said: “The spring booster programme is due to end on 30 June and as we live with the virus without past restrictions on our freedoms, I am also announcing that the offer of a first or second dose of Covid vaccine will end at this time. Covid continues to infect thousands of people every week, so I strongly encourage anyone who has not yet taken up the offer of a first or second dose of vaccine to join the 42 million who have already come forward for both doses.”