News round-up (13 October 2023)

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13th October 2023 about a 6 minute read

Last week the prime minister announced a gradual ban on smoking – this week, the government launches a consultation on measures to tackle the rise in vaping among young people. In a similar vein, an international team of scientists is urging governments to add warning labels to ultra-processed food to bring down obesity rates. At home, the continued strain on the NHS is shown in figures showing an increase in waiting lists for community services, while new data demonstrates that more and more people are attending A&E for minor ailments.

PM urged to ban disposable vapes

The government is launching a consultation on measures to tackle the numbers of young people vaping.

The draft proposals say that the government is “considering restricting the sale of disposable vapes”. While health officials say that all measures remain on the table, the Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, has called on the prime minister to “be decisive.”

Potential measures proposed in the consultation include restricting product flavours by removing those that most appeal to children, regulating packaging to avoid targeting children and keeping vapes away from other products that appeal to children such as sweets.

De Souza said: “Without strong action – including a total ban on disposable vapes – we risk getting a generation of kids hooked on vaping.”

Dementia risk factors pose more danger for ethnic minorities, finds study

The most common risk factors for dementia have a more pronounced effect in black and Asian people, new research suggests.

A team of University College London researchers studied the relationship between risk factors and dementia using health data for 865,674 adults in England between 1997 and 2018. They found that 12.6% of the cohort developed dementia. About 16% were white, 8.6% were south Asian, 12.1% were black and 9.7% were from other minority ethnic groups.

They assessed risk factors associated with dementia among the patients, including obesity, diabetes, sleep disorders, high blood pressure and dyslipidemia – an imbalance of lipids that can cause heart disease.

High blood pressure was associated with a higher risk of dementia in black people compared with white people, while in south Asian people there was a higher risk associated with sleep disorders, diabetes, low HDL cholesterol and high blood pressure. Compared with white patients, high blood pressure had 1.57 times more impact on dementia risk in south Asian people and 1.18 times more impact in black people, the researchers found.

Rise in people attending A&E for minor complaints creates strain on NHS

There has been a surge in patients attending A&E departments with minor ailments, according to data analysed by the Press Association (PA).

PA’s analysis showed that more were people going to A&E with complaints such as hiccups, nasal congestion, backache and nausea.

Cases where sore throat was the chief complaint rose by 77% between 2021-22 and 2022-23, from 191,900 cases to 340,441. Patients going to A&E with coughs rose by 47%, from 219,388 to 322,500, while attendances for nosebleeds rose by a fifth, from 47,285 cases to 56,546.

Miriam Deakin, the director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said the increase in numbers attending A&E for minor complaints was “piling even more pressure on to an already stretched NHS.” She added: “Minor ailments such as coughs, earache, fever, nausea and hiccups can and should be managed through more appropriate services such as pharmacies and NHS 111 online. This could ease pressure on emergency departments, whose priority is to deliver urgent care for those most in need.”

NHS England plans to cut follow-ups put patients ‘at risk’

Plans by NHS England to reduce follow-up appointments are leading to patient safety risks and causing waiting lists to grow, an acute trust has said.

The NHS England plans set out in the 2023-24 planning guidance say that trusts must cut outpatient follow-ups by 25% against 2019-20 levels by March, to increase capacity for new patients.

North Cumbria Integrated Care Foundation Trust has raised concerns, however, that following the policy will “exacerbate” its follow-up backlogs. It warned that the delays “potentially… pose a risk of harm to patients whose condition may deteriorate when follow-up is late”.

The trust’s September performance report said: “The national plans to reduce outpatient follow-up activity take no account of very long waits for follow-up appointments (and associated risk to patients) or, indeed, that providing more new appointments will also then require additional follow-up appointments.”

The Patients Association also said that cancelling follow-ups for some patients “will exacerbate health inequalities”.

Community service waiting list rises to more than 1 million

The community services waiting list has risen sharply to more than one million, NHS England figures show.

The new data reveals that numbers on the adult community waiting list increased from 704,000 to 781,000 between October 2022 and August this year. Numbers on the children and young people’s list rose from 207,000 to 221,000.

This means that the community waiting list for England has gone above one million for the first time since figures were first published in October last year.

The waiting list for musculoskeletal services dropped to a low of 255,000 in January. But figures have gone up again since then, and in July, the number of people waiting for care climbed to a high point of 319,000. Similarly, the waiting list for podiatry and podiatric services has risen by 7% since October, from 117,000 to 126,000. These services account for 46% of the waiting list over 52 weeks.

Ultra-processed foods should be given ‘addictive’ label, scientists say

A team of scientists from the US, Brazil and Spain has said that ultra-processed foods (UPF) should have the words “addictive substances” on the label to help tackle rising rates of obesity.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the researchers said that junk food could be just as addictive as alcohol, tobacco or gambling and should be taxed and labelled accordingly.

Their analysis of international data suggests that 14% of adults and 12% of children are addicted to food, causing them to lose control over consumption and eat too much.

More than half of the typical British daily diet is made up of UPF, a term for products made using a series of industrial processes. They include most breakfast cereals, ready meals, sweets, processed meat and chocolate bars.

The researchers said these foods “evoke similar levels of dopamine in the brain to those seen with addictive substances such as nicotine and alcohol.”