News round-up 17 June

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16th June 2022 about a 5 minute read

The big story this week is the launch of the government’s health and care data strategy, which sets out a plan that will enable researchers to make use of NHS data to improve diagnosis and treatment. GP shortages remain in the headlines, with a Panorama investigation discovering that one primary care chain is using physician associates to see patients rather than GPs. At the same time, NHS England is launching a pilot that will enable pharmacists to make referrals for cancer checks, to avoid patients having to wait for a GP appointment.

Government launches health and care data strategy

The government launched its strategy on using data more effectively in health care. The strategy, Data Saves Lives: Reshaping Health and Social Care with Data, is designed to make sure that millions of patients will benefit from faster and more innovative diagnosis and treatment. The strategy outlines seven broad commitments, including improving data for adult social care, giving researchers the data they need to develop better diagnostics and supporting local decision-makers with data.

One significant commitment in the strategy is to follow the recommendation in April’s Goldacre Review to make Trusted Research Environments (TREs) the default for NHS and adult social care organisations. These will provide secure access to de-identified data for research, so that data linked to an individual will never leave a secure server and can only be used for agreed research purposes.

Link between loneliness and mental health distress

New research published today by the Government has identified direct links between chronic loneliness and mental health distress.

The report, entitled Mental health and loneliness: the relationship across life stages, was based on qualitative research, including interviews with experts and interviews with people experiencing loneliness who also had a history of mental ill-health. Some of the participants also kept diaries recording their feelings. The aim was to assess mental health wellbeing and the impacts of loneliness in four life stages over a sustained period.

The results showed that chronic loneliness played a significant role in the onset and continuation of mental health distress. It also showed, however, that mental health distress can play a significant role in the onset and continuation of chronic loneliness – defined as people reporting they “often” or “always” feel lonely.

The report suggests that targeted early intervention could play a more significant role in combating the effects of loneliness on mental health in the short term.

UK’s biggest GP chain replaces doctors with less qualified staff

The UK’s biggest chain of GP practices allows less qualified staff to see patients without adequate supervision, a BBC Panorama investigation has found.

Operose Health, which has almost 600,000 NHS patients, is owned by US healthcare giant Centene Corporation. An undercover reporter sent to work as a receptionist at one of the chain’s London practices. She was told by a GP working at the practice that they were short of eight doctors, and the practice manager told her they hired physician associates (PAs), because they were “cheaper” than GPs.

PAs are healthcare professionals who have completed two years of post-graduate studies on top of a science degree. They support GPs in the diagnosis and management of patients, but should normally be supervised by a GP. In the practice investigated by Panorama, however, the PAs were seeing patients without any supervision.

Devon Partnership Trust to deploy psychological therapy dataset

Devon Partnership Trust is to implement a psychological therapy dataset to provide healthcare staff with real-time access to information about patients who are being treated by the local Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) service.

The Mayden iaptus (IAPT) dataset will provide access, in real time, to seven pieces of information about a patient: demographics; episodes of care; assessments; outcome questionnaires; historic appointments; future appointments; and documents and letters.

Clinicians will be able to see the information in the dataset remotely, and because the information is up-to-date, they will be able to make appropriate, informed decisions based on a full picture of a patient’s situation. At the moment, clinicians who want to find out more about a patient receiving mental health treatment need to call IAPT services. The new dataset will help avoid unnecessary re-referrals and appointments and reduce crisis impact.

High Street pharmacists to make cancer referrals

People experiencing symptoms that could indicate cancer (such as a persistent cough, blood in their urine or problems swallowing) will soon be able to ask for a referral from their pharmacist rather than wait to see their GP.

A new pilot, which enables high street pharmacists to refer patients for scans and checks, is about to begin in England. The aim is to diagnose more cancers early, improving the chance of a cure. Currently about half of all cancers are diagnosed early, but the NHS wants to increase this to at least three-quarters.