News round-up (19 January 2024)

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19th January 2024 about a 5 minute read

Vaccines are in the news again this week as a major study reveals that thousands of deaths could have been avoided if more people had received their full recommended doses of the Covid vaccine. Local authorities in London and other major cities are concerned about the low uptake of the MMR vaccine among children, with the West Midlands having seen 300 measles cases since October. Amidst the gloom, however, there is positive news as the government promises to prioritise women’s health. Commitments include expanding women’s health hubs to improve treatment for gynaecological conditions and offering greater support for victims of sexual abuse in the criminal justice system.

Thousands of deaths could be avoided with Covid jab

The government is urging older people to have their full complement of Covid jabs, after a study has shown that thousands of hospital admissions and deaths in the UK could have been avoided if everyone had received all their recommended doses.

Although the rollout began strongly in the UK, with 90% of the population over the age of 12 receiving at least one jab by January 2022, the numbers receiving subsequent doses fell sharply. By June 2022, less than half the population (44%) had been fully jabbed.

More than 7,000 hospital admissions and deaths in the UK could have been avoided that summer alone if people had had all their Covid jabs, the study suggested. The research, led by Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) and the University of Edinburgh, was published in the Lancet. It looked at everyone in the UK aged five and over, with under-vaccination defined as someone not having had all doses for which they were eligible.

Health secretary sets out new priorities for Women’s Health Strategy

New priorities in 2024 for the Women’s Health Strategy include menstrual problems, menopause, maternity care and birth trauma support, the health secretary, Victoria Atkins, has announced.

At a summit on Wednesday, Atkins outlined new plans for improving women’s health care. These included expanding women’s health hubs to improve treatment for gynaecological conditions, improving support for victims of sexual abuse in the criminal justice system, delivering better care for women with birth trauma and making sure women are better represented in medical research.

She said that successes since the launch of the Women’s Health Strategy included reducing the cost of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and the rollout of women’s health hubs.

New cancer drug is gentler than chemotherapy

Some children with cancer are receiving a new type of immunotherapy drug treatment that is less aggressive than traditional chemotherapy.

The treatment, Blina, is already licensed to treat adults with cancer, but there are hopes it could also be used to treat children.

About 20 centres in the UK are using it off-label for children with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (B-ALL).

Blina is able to seek out cancer cells so the body’s own immune system can recognise and destroy them, while leaving healthy cells untouched.

Consultant paediatric haematologist Prof Ajay Vora said: “Chemotherapies are poisons that kill the leukaemic cells but also kill and damage normal cells – and that is what causes their side effects. Blinatumomab is a gentler, kinder treatment.”

Half of children in some areas are not vaccinated against measles

In some areas, including parts of London, almost half of children have not been vaccinated against measles, according to official data.

Hackney has the lowest uptake in the country, with only 56.3% of children having received the jab. Another 13 London boroughs were among those with the lowest uptake. Outside London, uptake was also low in Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Birmingham.

Local authorities are now warning parents that unvaccinated pupils could be forced to self-isolate for three weeks if their classmates catch measles. Since October, more than 300 cases have been confirmed or identified as likely in the West Midlands.

Unvaccinated children have been excluded from schools for up to 21 days in an attempt to stop the spread of disease, while catch-up vaccination clinics have been created for parents, staff and children.

Ofsted inspectors receive mental health training

Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) has been delivering mental health awareness training to Ofsted inspectors.

The training programme will last until March 2024, to make sure that every school and college inspector receives training. The 3,000 inspectors working in schools, further education, social care and childcare facilities will all attend two training sessions.

The aim is to help inspectors “understand and recognise any mental health issues they may encounter on inspection”, Ofsted said. After Ruth Perry, a headteacher, died by suicide following an Ofsted inspection, Ofsted has been criticised for its insensitivity towards staff.

Sir Martyn Oliver, Ofsted’s new chief inspector, said: “This mental health awareness training is a first step – but for me a critical first step – in reassuring the sectors we work with that we are serious about change.”

Leading psychiatry journal asks for lived experience in reporting research

The Lancet Psychiatry, a scientific journal publishing peer reviewed research, has announced that it will ask authors to provide information on how people with experience of mental illnesses were involved in the study design.

If a study has not included anyone with lived experience in some way (the design of the study, shaping the questions, delivering the research or interpreting and writing up the findings), it can still be published in the journal, but the authors will have to acknowledge the lack of Patient or Public Engagement and Involvement (PPIE) as a limitation of their work.

The Lancet itself has been working with the McPin Foundation to establish a panel of lived experience reviewers and plans to expand capacity by recruiting more members of the public and providing them with training.