News round-up (18 August 2023)

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18th August 2023 about a 5 minute read

The government has proposed measures to tackle two of the NHS’s biggest problems – a shortage of hospital beds in the winter months and long cancer waiting lists. It has announced £250m funding for an extra 5,000 hospital beds, and proposed removing some cancer targets so that patients can access scans and tests directly without waiting for a referral from their GP. The NHS continues to face other major problems, however. There has been an increase in the numbers of people hospitalised with heart problems since the pandemic, and payouts in maternity negligence claims have risen sharply.

Government announces £250m funding for more hospital beds in England this winter

The government is to provide £250m additional funding for an extra 5,000 NHS hospital beds in England this winter.

Ministers say that 900 new beds will be ready by January, with the remainder to follow soon after. The aim is to increase capacity and help lower record waiting lists.

The increase will mean that, at the busiest time of the year, there will be nearly 100,000 permanent beds on wards and in A&E – an increase of 5% on current levels.

The government has also said it will fund services where people can be treated without requiring a hospital stay, such as urgent treatment centres and same-day emergency care services.

Pat Cullen of the Royal College of Nursing wanted to know who would staff the additional beds, adding: “Nursing staff are already spread too thinly over too many patients.”

Cancer waiting time targets to be dropped in England

NHS leaders in England plan to reduce the number of cancer waiting time targets from nine to three.

The reason for the change is that some of the current targets – such as waiting no more than two weeks for a first consultant appointment – are regarded as outdated. The three targets to remain are: diagnosis of cancer within 28 days of referral; starting treatment within two months of an urgent referral; starting treatment one month after a decision to treat.

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has said the changes will allow more patients to bypass their GP and go straight for a scan. He told the Daily Telegraph that there was an opportunity to “design out bottlenecks in the system.”


Heart attacks at record level after pandemic

Record numbers of people in England have been hospitalised since the pandemic, according to new figures.

The figures show that in 2021-22, more than 84,000 patients were admitted to hospital because of a heart attack – a rise of more than 7,000 since the previous year.

Since the first lockdown, deaths from heart disease have risen by more than 500 a week, partly because fewer people were able to access their GP for a prescription.

Government figures show almost 100,000 extra deaths among those with heart disease between spring 2020 and spring of this year.

NHS England leaders are now launching a campaign urging people who have symptoms of heart problems to seek help.

Surge in maternity negligence payouts

Claims against the NHS for maternity negligence have reached a record high, after rising by over a third in three years, new figures show.

The figures from NHS Resolution show that almost 1,400 claims were lodged last year – a rise of 37% in three years. In total there were 1,392 maternity negligence claims lodged in 2022/23, up from 1,013 in 2019/20.

While obstetrics make up 13% of all negligence claims against the NHS, they take up 64% of costs. This is because many babies with brain injuries at birth need compensation to pay for a lifetime of care.

More than half of maternity units in England are rated inadequate or requires improvement by the regulator, the Care Quality Commission, which has said there has been a deterioration in care over the last five years.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ launch world’s first virtual training course in robotic-assisted surgery

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust is about to launch a virtual training course in thoracic robotic-assisted surgery (RAS).

Starting in October 2023, the course aims to widen global access to advanced surgical techniques. The six-week online programme will enable international health care professionals to engage remotely in interactive learning experiences.

The training will use telepresence capabilities of supplier Proximie, allowing participants to watch live thoracic RAS and ask questions of Guy’s and St Thomas’ operating surgeons. Trainees will also be able to access Proximie’s extensive content library, enabling them to view, edit and annotate recorded surgeries.

NHS will use apps to improve access to weight-loss jabs

Four apps that can improve access to weight-loss drugs could be used by the NHS if draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is adopted.

NICE says that face-to-face services treating those with obesity cannot keep up with demand. The apps – Liva, Oviva, Roczen and Second Nature – will give people access to specialists who can prescribe weight loss drugs. They will also offer access to experts who can provide psychological support, including advice on diet and exercise, for people unable to attend face-to-face appointments for treatment, or who do not have access to local help or are on a waiting list.

NICE’s draft guidance recommends that the NHS use the apps over the next four years while evidence is collected on their cost-effectiveness.