News round-up 18 November

man looking at online news headlines
17th November 2022 about a 5 minute read

The big news this week is the £3.3bn a year increase in NHS spending announced in the chancellor’s autumn statement. The additional funding for social care – combined with a two-year delay to the implementation of the cap on social care payments – is also significant. The waiting list backlog remains, however, and NHS England is attempting to address it by allowing GPs to refer patients with suspected cancer directly for scans without needing to see a specialist first. The NHS is also considering stopping funding for procedures considered unnecessary, such as liposuction.

Chancellor promises more money for NHS in autumn statement

The NHS will receive an additional £3.3bn in funding a year over the next two years, the chancellor of the exchequer has said in his autumn statement. Jeremy Hunt said that Amanda Pritchard, the NHS England chief executive, believes this will allow the NHS to fulfil its key priorities. He added that he had asked the former health secretary Patricia Hewitt to offer advice on how to make sure the new integrated care boards operate efficiently “with appropriate autonomy and accountability”.

In the same statement, the chancellor said that social care funding would rise by £2.8bn in 2023 and up to £4.7bn in 2024. This would come from an increase in adult social care funding of £1bn next year and £1.7bn the year after, combined with savings from a two-year delay to implementing the Dilnot reforms – principally the cap on social care. This delay would give councils breathing space to increase social care spending, he said.

All GPs will receive direct access to cancer tests

All GP practices in England will be able to book cancer tests directly for their patients from later this month.

Normally, if a GP suspects a patient may have cancer, they will refer the patient to a hospital specialist, who may then order a CT scan, MRI or ultrasound. The NHS has announced that this will change, so that GPs can order those tests directly without the middle step.

Before they make the referral, they will have to identify clear symptoms the patient may have a specific type of cancer.

The change has been made both to speed up diagnosis and to cut the waiting list for cancer referrals.

Integrated care systems may be breaching patients’ confidentiality

The National Data Guardian has warned integrated care systems (ICSs) that they may be unlawfully sharing confidential patient information with third parties.

In a letter to ICSs, Nicola Byrne, the National Data Guardian, and Arjun Dhillon, chair of the Caldicott Guardian Council, said they had “been made aware that within some local record sharing programmes, organisations could be processing confidential patient information without ensuring that the processing does not breach confidentiality”.

One of the areas of concern was the possibility that confidential patient information was being transferred from local record-sharing programmes to third party hosted secure data environments. These are data storage and access platforms where organisations can apply to access data for planning and research purposes.

“If you are sharing information from your local record sharing programmes for purposes other than individual care, then you are required to consider how you will satisfy or set aside the common law duty of confidentiality,” the letter said.

NHS website receives 1.2 billion visits in a year

In the past year there was an estimated 1.2bn visits to the NHS website – an average of 23m visits each week or 2,300 views per minute, NHS Digital has revealed.

Between October 2021 to September 2022, the most popular page for visitors was the one allowing people to book a Covid-19 vaccine. This registered 131m visits alone. The BMI healthy weight calculator was the most viewed non-Covid page, at 22m visits.  

Robert Cleary, NHS Digital’s content director for the website, said: “The NHS website is the UK’s biggest health website, with an average of 23m visits each week during the past 12 months. Millions of people have used the website for the latest Covid information or to book a vaccination, as well as for advice on topics ranging from high blood pressure to chest infections.

ONS works with government to improve social care data

In order to address workforce shortages in the social care sector, it is important to collect and analyse existing workforce data. Although Skills for Care regularly publishes a report on the adult social care workforce, there are still significant gaps. For example, not enough is known about self-employed carers, or about where staff who leave the adult social care sector end up working.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is working with DHSC and Skills for Care to find ways of building workforce evidence base by analysing the Census, the Annual Population Survey, and the Inter-Departmental Business Register. It also plans to use innovative new data science methods using unstructured open data. This includes testing machine learning methods to identify social care roles in job adverts.

NHS told to stop funding tummy tucks and liposuction

The NHS will be told to save money by stopping funding unnecessary operations, such as circumcisions, tummy tucks and liposuction.

In all, 13 procedures will be identified in a list drawn up by  NHS chiefs and senior doctors from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. They will say that will these procedures should not be routinely funded, or only be performed under the NHS if specific criteria are met. The right-wing think tank The Policy Exchange estimates that up to £2 billion a year could be saved if programmes to remove unnecessary procedures were implemented, in tandem with action to reduce wasteful prescribing.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, the NHS medical director, said the instruction was part of an efficiency drive to prevent waste from the public purse.