News round-up (19 May 2023)

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19th May 2023 about a 5 minute read

Attempts to solve the unprecedented demand for NHS services are running into trouble. Promised new hospitals haven’t been built; private health care providers are swamped with customers fleeing NHS waiting lists; and now experts are warning that giving pharmacists the power to prescribe antibiotics could lead to a new generation of superbugs. There is hopeful news on the technology front, however, as Great Ormond Street Hospital partners with Roche to use artificial intelligence to improve patient care.

Work yet to start on 33 of 40 new hospitals

Building work has not yet started on 33 of the government’s 40 promised new hospitals in England.

Only two of the hospitals are finished and open, while most are still waiting to hear what their final budget will be for the projects, which have a 2030 deadline. Originally the government had planned to have six ready by 2025, but none of the six has yet had full planning permission or funding.

The government says it remains committed to meeting the targets. A spokesperson said: “We are developing a new national approach to constructing hospitals so they can be built more rapidly, ensure value for money, and we continue to work closely with all trusts on their plans.”

Allowing pharmacists to prescribe antibiotics could lead to resistant ‘superbugs’, experts say

Government plans to allow pharmacists to prescribe antibiotics for certain conditions could result in the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, some experts have said.

The move to give more prescribing powers to pharmacists is designed to relieve pressure on GPs. Experts in antimicrobial resistance, however, worry that the change could lead to over-prescription of antibiotics by pharmacists.

Jonathan Pearce, the chief executive of the charity Antibiotic Research UK, said: “The threshold for prescribing antibiotics has already reduced due to patient access to telephone and online consultations, including from private online providers.

“Rather than increasing the threshold, pharmacists should be supported to run trialled and tested stewardship schemes, supported with robust diagnostic tests. Patients must receive the most appropriate treatment, which will often not be antibiotics.”

Patients wait three hours on phone for private health care

Private healthcare companies are struggling to cope with demand, as NHS patients turn to private providers rather than spend a long time on a waiting list.

In response to customers who have complained of “outrageous” waits of up to three hours for their calls to be answered, Bupa said it had taken action to improve call waiting times. This has included recruiting hundreds more call-handlers.

Bupa has reported a significant increase in take-up of its medical insurance plans since the pandemic. In the last year, it has taken on an extra 275,000 customers for medical insurance, health trusts, dental and cash plans.

Integrated care systems required to make 6% efficiency savings

Integrated care systems (ICSs) will have to make average efficiency savings of almost 6% to meet their financial requirements this year, according to a new report.

The savings are significantly higher than the levels demanded before the pandemic.

In the years before Covid, the provider sector typically planned to make average efficiency savings of around 4%  each year, but repeatedly fell short of those levels. The requirement increased to 5% in 2022-23.

Papers published by Cambridge and Peterborough ICS said the national efficiency target for 2023-24 is 5.8% – approximately £6bn of the total £102bn core allocation for ICSs.

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “We recognise that systems have a significant efficiency challenge for 23/24, as we ask them to remove the additional capacity put in place to respond to the pandemic and recover productivity.”

Great Ormond Street partners with Roche to help children with rare diseases

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) has teamed up with Roche UK to develop digital tools that can identify better ways to support and treat children and young people with rare and complex diseases.

The collaboration uses cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to improve the use of data that is routinely collected to improve care at GOSH and elsewhere.

The tools will enable data to harnessed in new ways to improve care. They will optimise the development of innovative treatments for rare and complex diseases, helping to get them from the lab to the patient more quickly.

By enabling the automated analysis of anonymised information, such as genomic data, images and text, clinical workflows can be developed to improve decision-making. The ultimate aim is to make sure patients receive the best possible care at each stage of their journey, based on what has been learnt from treating previous patients.

People too tired to lead healthier lifestyles, survey finds

One reason many people don’t make the changes to their diet and physical activity that would improve their health is tiredness, according to a new survey.

A YouGov poll of 2,086 UK adults for the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) asked people what was stopping them from eating more healthily and exercising more often. Two in five women (40%) and nearly a third (29%) of men cited “feeling too tired”.

“Lack of motivation” was cited by 38%, while other common reasons included the cost of food (30%), lack of time (26%) and work/life balance (25%). Others cited the cost of exercising (25%), lack of confidence (16%) and “not knowing where to start” (12%).

WCRF is launching an eight-week healthy living plan which it hopes will enable people to build healthier habits into their routine.