News round-up (15 September 2023)

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15th September 2023 about a 6 minute read

Some gloomy news as a major data analysis finds that 240,000 lives have been lost in the past decade because Britain’s avoidable mortality rates are higher than other European countries. Tackling the problem will be made harder by the finding that a third of medical students say they plan to leave the NHS within two years of graduating. A more hopeful note comes from the revelation that ChatGPT performs just as well as doctors in diagnosing patients, suggesting one possible way of alleviating the workforce problem.

Thousands of people dying because Britain lags behind other European countries

More than 240,000 lives could have been saved in the past decade if Britain had not been lagging behind its European neighbours, research has shown.

Using data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, researchers at the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR)  found that 243,000 lives could have been saved between 2010 and 2020 if Britain’s “avoidable mortality” was on a par with that of other European countries.

By 2020, the UK had a rate of 220 deaths per 100,000 people compared with an average of 180 per 100,000 in other comparable European economies.

Harry Quilter-Pinner, IPPR director of research and engagement, said: “At their best, health and care services can save lives, transform wellbeing, and support prosperity. But after a decade of austerity, low investment and a pandemic, today’s status quo is not meeting the demands of the 21st century.”

One in three medical students plan to leave NHS within two years of graduating

A third of medical students plan to leave the NHS within two years of graduating, either to practise abroad or abandon medicine altogether, according to a survey published in the journal BMJ Open.

Poor pay, work-life balance and working conditions of doctors in the UK were the main factors cited by those intending to pursue their medical career abroad. The same reasons were also given by those planning to leave medicine altogether, with nearly 82% of them also listing burnout as an important or very important reason.

The researchers surveyed 10,486 students at the UK’s 44 medical schools. About 60% of respondents, whose average age was 22, were either not satisfied or not at all satisfied with the prospect of working in the NHS.

Among the 2,543 medical students who cited a preference for their destination country, Australia was the most mentioned (43%), followed by New Zealand (18%), the US and Canada (both 10%).

MPs call for wider Covid vaccine roll-out

A group of MPs has called on the government to consider widening the availability of Covid vaccines.

New data appears to show that the Pirola variant spreading, and some MPs are concerned that it could put pressure on the NHS.

Members of the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus wrote to the prime minister on Friday warning that the NHS could struggle to cope with another winter of high numbers of Covid cases, and asking him to rethink his decision to restrict vaccines to people aged 65 and over and vulnerable groups.

They asked him to consider extending the booster programme this autumn to more groups, such as people aged 50 to 64, and to help make the Covid jab available to buy privately, like the flu vaccine.

MPs will investigate sexual harassment of female surgeons

The Health and Social Committee of MPs is to look into the sexual harassment and sexual assault of female surgeons that has been reported in the NHS.

Research by the University of Exeter, the University of Surrey and the Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery, found that nearly two-thirds of women surgeons who responded said they had been the target of sexual harassment, and a third had been sexually assaulted by colleagues, in the past five years.

The Health and Social Care Committee said it would look into the issue and its chair, Steve Brine, said: “The NHS has a duty to ensure that hospitals are safe spaces for all staff to work in and to hold managers to account to ensure that action is taken against those responsible. We expect to look into this when we consider leadership in the NHS in our future work.”

ChatGPT is as accurate as doctors at diagnosing patients

The artificial intelligence (AI) tool ChatGPT is as good as A&E doctors at diagnosing patients, a study has found.

Research in the Netherlands compared the accuracy of diagnoses made by the ChatGPT with those made by clinicians

The researchers entered physicians’ notes on signs, symptoms and physical examinations from 30 patients who visited an emergency department last year, as well as anonymous doctors’ notes, into ChatGPT versions 3.5 and 4.0, and provided it with the results of lab tests. They compared the shortlist of probable diagnoses generated by the chatbot with the shortlist made by emergency medicine doctors and to the patient’s correct diagnosis. The ChatGPT analysis was compared with two clinicians who made a diagnosis based on the same information, both with and without laboratory data. Doctors had the correct diagnosis within their top five probable diagnoses in 87% of cases, compared with 97% for ChatGPT 3.5 and 87% for ChatGPT 4.0.

Labour says it will regulate NHS managers

The Labour Party has said it would introduce a tougher system of regulating NHS management in the wake of Lucy Letby’s murders.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “It appears certain that the lives of newborn babies could have been saved, had hospital leaders acted when concerns were first raised by staff working on the ward. Instead, the brave doctors who sounded the alarm were met with hard-headed, stubborn refusal This is not the first time whistle-blowers in the NHS have been ignored at a cost to patient safety. Yet, despite the case for regulation being made pointedly and repeatedly in the past decade, little action has been taken. That is not good enough. The system must change.”

Streeting wrote to NHS Providers and the NHS Confederation to state his intention that Labour would work collaboratively towards delivering a “regulatory framework that strengthens the accountability of managers and enhances patient safety.”

English patients with eating disorders sent to Scotland for treatment

Patients in England who have eating disorders are being sent hundreds of miles from their homes to Scotland for treatment.

The data from NHS England shows that between from the financial year 2020-21 to the end of May 2023, 84 patients were sent from England to Scotland, at a total cost of almost £9m.

The Guardian spoke to a young woman who had been sent more than 400 miles from Sussex to Glasgow, an eight-hour drive. She told the Guardian: “I was not really given much option, but was told there are no beds locally,” she said.  “There were five other patients who were from Sussex, and the majority of patients were English, a few were from Northern Ireland and Wales.” She added: “My parents and friends did come and visit me but it was quite a performance to get there.”