News round-up 2 December

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1st December 2022 about a 5 minute read

Some good news this week, with the announcement that, after many years of failed trials, a drug has been found that can slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. December looks to be a difficult time for the NHS, however, as ambulance staff join nurses in voting to strike. Steve Barclay, the health and care secretary, has suggested that increased use of artificial intelligence may be one way to cope with the pressures the health service is facing.

New drug is first to slow progress of Alzheimer’s

A new drug, lecanemab, has been shown to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain.

Lecanemab attacks a protein called beta amyloid that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. The protein was first identified as a potential target 30 years ago, but since then all the attempts to develop an effective drug have been unsuccessful – until now. The large-scale clinical trial involved 1,795 volunteers with early-stage Alzheimer’s, who were given infusions of lecanemab every fortnight for 18 months.

Although the participants continued to experience a decline in brain power, the decline was slowed by about 25%. The clinical data is now being assessed by regulators in the US who will decide whether to approve lecanemab for wider use.

Ambulance staff in England vote to strike

Members of Unison and GMB, both unions representing ambulance staff, have voted for strike action at ambulance services in England and Wales. They include paramedics, call handlers and other staff.

GMB members voted for strikes at nine ambulance services and Unison members at five. Only the East of England service will not be affected.

The strikes are likely to start before Christmas, but the rules requiring emergency care to be provided mean their impact will be limited.

Most hospital discharge data is useless, says former NHS England chief

Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS from 2006 to 2013, and of NHS England until 2014, has said that most data about hospital discharges by NHS England is “wholly useless” when trying to improve discharge rates.

“Almost all” of the data relating to delayed discharges, he added, “is designed to show how bad social care is”.

In an interview with the editor of HSJ, Sir David, now chair of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust and Sandwell and West Birmingham Trust, said: “The problem we have with a lot of the data we collect [is that] it is designed for accountability reasons, not operational reasons.”

NHSE publishes figures on the numbers of patients who “no longer meet the criteria to reside” in hospital – and during the winter months will publish this every week. NHSE has said the data collected on discharges helps to improve patient care and flow.

NHS should consider robots to plug staffing gaps, health secretary says

The NHS should consider using robots to plug staffing gaps, according to the health secretary, Steve Barclay.

He said the NHS needed to make more use of artificial intelligence, and to weigh up the risks relating to AI against the impact of staff shortages. He also said the government needed to do far more to take on “vested interests” to reduce waiting lists.

Addressing the Spectator Health Summit, Barclay said the NHS could not rely on expanding staff numbers to cope with the challenges facing it, which included an ageing population.

NHS Scotland launches national digital platform for health and care

The Scottish government has launched a platform for apps and digital services in health and social care.

The National Digital Platform was designed by NHS Education for Scotland, in tandem with partners in health and social care. It aims to provide standard infrastructure and components enabling digital tools to be built and deployed. NHS Scotland says that it is intended to work in the same way that mobile phones use an Android or iOS platform.

Services currently using the platform include a tool for stroke assessments and vaccination management

Minister delays response to ‘urgent’ social care report

The social care minister, Helen Whately, has said the government needs more time to consider its response to an urgent call for more funding from a cross-party committee of MPs.

In August, the levelling up, housing and communities committee said that the government needed to provide at least £7bn a year to help the adult social care sector deal with the pressures of inflation and unmet care needs.

But in a letter to the committee’s chair Clive Betts (Lab) on 24 November, the social care minister Helen Whately said the government would not respond within the expected two months, because she needed to take time to consider the committee’s recommendations.

Number of overseas nurses almost match number trained in UK

Almost as many overseas nurses are coming to work in the UK as the number trained here, new figures show.

An influx of workers from India, the Philippines and Nigeria means that the number registering from overseas has quadrupled in the last four years, according to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

A total of 11,496 nurses, midwives and nursing associates who were trained abroad joined the NMC in the six months to September, the data shows. This compares with 12,102 people trained in the UK who joined the NMC in the same period.