News round-up (11 August 2023)

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10th August 2023 about a 4 minute read

In a fresh attempt to tackle the NHS backlog, the government is now proposing to involve the private sector in the management of community diagnostic centres. At the same time, one private sector company already providing services to the NHS, Babylon, is struggling and the UK business is now up for sale. Some good news this week is that researchers have found that only 4,000 steps a day are needed to cut an individual’s risk of dying prematurely from any cause.

Flu and Covid booster jabs for under 65s will be axed

NHS flu jabs and Covid boosters will no longer be offered to adults under 65 this winter.

The government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said this week that it planned to offer Covid jabs only to those at “high risk of serious disease” who are “most likely to benefit” from vaccination.

Covid boosters will, however, be offered to residents in care homes for older adults; those aged six months to 64 in clinical risk groups; frontline health and social care workers; people aged 12 to 64 who are carers or household contacts of people with immunosuppression; and all adults aged 65 and over.

The rollout will not start until October, later than in previous years.

Private sector involvement in NHS to be expanded

Prime minister Rishi Sunak is planning the biggest expansion of private sector involvement in the NHS since Tony Blair was in charge.

Private sector firms will be asked to operate community diagnostic centres for NHS patients, starting with eight units carrying out more than 400,000 scans, checks and tests a year. Companies will be asked to identify all spare capacity, enabling the NHS to send patients facing long waits to private hospitals that can treat them more quickly.

The government is hoping that by increasing private sector involvement, it can cut waiting lists. The most recent figures show that there are now 7.47 million people on NHS waiting lists.

Babylon planning to sell GP at Hand

The private health care company Babylon is intending to sell its UK business, including GP at Hand, its online GP practice, which has more than 100,000 registered NHS patients.

A $34.5m attempt to restructure the company and return it to private ownership has failed.

Babylon said it was now exploring “strategic alternatives in order to find the best outcome for its UK business” and “remains focused on continuing the day-to-day operations of its UK business”.

Senior figures in the company told HSJ that they were confident that its UK business, including the parts that deliver NHS services, will be sold in the coming months. In the meantime, there is enough cash to support them with no impact on patients, Babylon’s leadership believes.

Air pollution linked to rise in antibiotic resistance

Air pollution is helping to drive a rise in antibiotic resistance that poses a significant threat to human health worldwide, an international study has suggested.

The analysis, by researchers in the UK and China, looked at data from more than 100 countries spanning nearly two decades. It indicated that increased air pollution is linked with rising antibiotic resistance in every country and continent.

It also suggests the link between the two has strengthened over time, with increases in air pollution levels coinciding with larger rises in antibiotic resistance. Although antibiotic resistance is caused largely by overuse of antibiotics in farm animals, it seems that the problem is exacerbated by rising levels of air pollution – though the causal link has not been established.

Coroners raise concern at failure to monitor antidepressant use

Coroners have raised multiple warnings about the way a commonly-used antidepressant medication is being prescribed to at-risk patients, HSJ reports.

The publication identified at least nine prevention of future deaths reports issued by coroners since 2017 highlighting the way the deceased’s prescription for sertraline was handled by doctors.

Open Prescribing data suggests sertraline prescriptions have increased by almost 40% since 2019. The coroners expressed concern that doctors were not having conversations with patients about the risks of the drug and that they were not adequately monitoring patients who were using sertraline.

4,000 steps a day will improve health

Taking 4,000 steps a day will reduce the risk of dying prematurely of any cause, research has found.

Although it is popularly believed that 10,000 steps a day are necessary to improve health, researchers from the Medical University of Lodz in Poland and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US found that taking 2,3000 steps a day will reduce the risk of dying from heart disease, while every 1,000 steps after 4,000 will reduce the risk of dying early by 15%.

The researchers analysed data from 226,000 people from around the world, and found that the biggest benefits were seen in the under-60s.