News round-up (17 March 2023)

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16th March 2023 about a 5 minute read

Jeremy Hunt has delivered his first budget as chancellor of the exchequer. He announced a change to rules on pension tax, with the aim of bringing retired doctors back into the NHS, as well as a £400m package to help employees with mental health and musculoskeletal problems, which he hopes will reduce the numbers leaving their jobs. There is encouraging news about the ways in which patient data collected from apps or loyalty cards can help clinicians provide more personalised care.

New £400m support package for mental health and MSK disorders

In this week’s budget, the chancellor of the exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, announced a £400m support package to improve mental health and musculoskeletal (MSK) resources for workers.

The government will embed tailored employment support within mental health and MSK services in England, expanding access to digital resources and health checks. “We should give them support before they end up leaving their job,” Hunt said.

The resources will include apps for the management of mental health and MSK conditions. Hunt said this represents a “step change in the government’s ambition on digital resources for mental health and MSK.”

Lack of funding is compromising safety, says patient safety commissioner

The patient safety commissioner, Henrietta Hughes, has told MPs that she does not have enough staff to cope with her “significant workload”.

The concerns are outlined in a letter from Steve Brine, chair of the Commons health and social care committee, to Steve Barclay, the health and social care secretary. The commissioner’s office is under “extreme pressure, with a significant workload including correspondence from patients,” the letter says. Brine goes on to ask Barclay to consider providing an “urgent increase in resources.”

Change to pension tax to retain doctors

Changes to the pension tax regime outlined in this week’s budget are aimed at stopping experienced doctors from retiring early.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced that the lifetime allowance on pensions – the amount a person may save into their pension during their lifetime before incurring tax  – would be abolished.

The move aims to bring workers who have taken early retirement or reduced their hours because of the cap back into the workforce. The cap has been blamed for encouraging consultants to leave the health service early.

The lifetime allowance charge – the amount an employee is taxed when they take money out of their pension if they have exceeded their lifetime allowance – will be removed next month, while the allowance itself will be scrapped entirely in a future finance bill.

Patient-collated data can support evidence-based care

Health apps are providing clinicians with early access to insights that support evidence-based care, according to Dr Haidar Samiei, a consultant in emergency medicine and a clinical director for health care technology company EMIS.

In an article for Digital Health, Samiei wrote that data collected through apps designed to monitor long term illnesses is now often requested ahead of planned medical appointments. He said that the data helps to provide him with important insights and that it is now “second nature to ask to see the data collected on a patient’s smartwatch or smartphone – especially if they’re presenting with a heart complaint.”

While apps for monitoring chronic conditions are particularly helpful, apps that monitor brain health, anxiety, stress and sleeping patterns can also be useful. Samiei also noted that some data can help clinicians predict a future health issue – apps that monitor how steady an older person is on their feet can reveal a lot about their state of health, for example.

NHS endorses new procurement route for sourcing virtual wards

NHS England has opted to make a dynamic purchasing system (DPS) its approved procurement route for trusts buying equipment and software to run virtual wards.

The Spark DPS system, run by the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), is now NHS England’s approved method for trusts and integrated care systems (ICSs) to source their virtual ward solutions.

The CCS describes Spark as a Technology Innovation Marketplace that can help the government and public sector to access new and emerging technology products. The DPS uses a filter system that helps customers find relevant suppliers.

UK has opportunity to share data to improve health of population

Data-sharing between the NHS and high street pharmacies could improve management of long-term conditions and help prevent disease, according to speakers at the Rewired conference this week, which looked at the future of digital health in the UK.

Boots UK and ROI managing director Sebastian James said that better sharing of patient data between community pharmacies and the NHS could transform the way healthcare services are delivered, by personalising care and providing continuity between secondary and primary care and high street pharmacies.

“The data resources we have in the UK are unique,” said James. “We have something most countries can only dream of – a single point of contact with patients.” He added that Boots holds “extraordinary data” on its customers’ health, through its prescription and vaccination services and its Advantage Card loyalty scheme.  “With patients’ consent, we should be able to feed back data to GPs and the rest of the primary care team,” he said.