News round-up (2 February 2024)

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1st February 2024 about a 7 minute read

This week has seen the introduction of two developments designed to free up GP time and cut waiting lists. The Pharmacy First scheme allows patients to receive treatments for common conditions from pharmacists, rather than making a GP appointment. The other enables patients using the NHS App to collect their medication directly from a pharmacy without having to visit their GP. There is some good health news too, with research showing that exercise reduces the risk of prostate cancer, while playing a musical instrument cuts an individual’s likelihood of developing dementia.

New powers for pharmacists will free up GP appointments, PM says

New powers for pharmacists will free up 10m GP appointments a year, the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has said.

From this week, patients are able to receive treatment from pharmacists for seven common conditions without having to see a GP.

The seven treatments are sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bites, impetigo, shingles and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women under 65. Women will also be able to get the contraceptive pill directly from pharmacists.

The government hopes that the change will enable GPs to focus attention on patients with more serious conditions, enabling them to be referred more quickly to a consultant if necessary.

NHS England said that more than nine in 10 community pharmacies in England – 10,265 in total – would be offering the checks under the Pharmacy First scheme.

People with Jewish ancestry to be offered test to detect cancer risk

Tens of thousands of people with Jewish ancestry will be offered genetic tests to find out if they have an increased risk of developing certain cancers.

This is because this group are much more likely to have impaired BRCA genes than the general population, and are therefore at more risk of developing breast, ovarian, prostate or pancreatic cancer.

The new screening programme is part of a wider drive to detect cancer early. Women with faulty BRCA genes have up to 72% chance of developing breast cancer and a 44% risk of developing ovarian cancer. Amongst the population as a whole, the risk is 11.5% and 1.5% respectively.

Anyone found to have the defective BRCA genes will be given early access to cancer detection services such as mammograms or MRI scans. They may also be offered preventative surgery or medication, and advised to make risk-reducing lifestyle changes.

NHS adds digital prescriptions to app

Patients in England who use the NHS App are now able to collect their medication directly from a pharmacy without having to visit their GP.

The usual paper prescription issued by doctors has been replaced by a barcode within the app, which can be scanned at any pharmacy. The new digital prescriptions were piloted last year among a million users.

Patients can use the app to check what medicines they have been prescribed, and when. Every digital order fulfilled will save a GP three minutes, NHS Digital has said.

The app also shows average local hospital waiting times for elective treatment, such as hip replacements.

Taking more exercise can reduce prostate cancer risk by a third, study finds

Men can reduce their risk of prostate cancer by up to 35% by increasing the amount of exercise they do, a study has found.

Even a small increase of 3% in exercise such as swimming or jogging over the course of a year is linked to a much lower chance of developing the disease.

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, analysed data on the physical activity levels, height and body mass index (BMI) of 57,652 men, along with information on lifestyle and perceived health, and the results of at least two cardiorespiratory fitness tests. Over a seven-year follow-up, 592 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer. Those whose fitness had improved by 3% annually were 35% less likely to develop cancer compared with those whose fitness had declined.

“The more intensive activity, the lower the requirement for duration and frequency,” said the study’s co-author Dr Kate Bolam, of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences in Stockholm. “The trick is to challenge your cardiovascular system on a regular basis so it improves to match the requirements placed on it. It could even be line dancing if that gets your heart rate up and you have fun.”

UK bowel cancer death rates for under-50s likely to rise by a third

The rate at which people under the age of 50 in the UK are dying from bowel cancer is set to rise by a third this year, according to expert projections.

Death rates among those aged 25 to 49 are predicted to increase by 39% among women and 26% among men in 2024, compared with the average between 2015 and 2019, the last five-year period for which data was studied. The research, published in the journal Annals of Oncology, looked at the EU’s five most populous countries – France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain – as well as the UK.

The predictions run counter to the trend in other cancers, in which death rates are falling.

Professor Carlo La Vecchia, a professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Milan and the lead author on the study, said: “Key factors that contribute to the rise in bowel cancer rates among young people include overweight, obesity and related health conditions, such as high blood sugar levels and diabetes. Additional reasons are increases in heavier alcohol drinking over time in central and northern Europe and the UK, and reductions in physical activity.”

Singing or playing an instrument could stave off dementia, study finds

Playing a musical instrument or singing in a choir can help to keep dementia at bay, according to new study by the University of Exeter.

The research found that musicians have a sharper memory and better brain health as they age, particularly if they play the piano. The study looked at data from 1,108 adults with an average age of 68, who were taking part in the Protect study, which is investigating how the brain ages.

Nearly nine in 10 of the participants had played an instrument at some point in their lives, with 44% continuing to play.

Tests measured their brain function and memory, including mental processes that help in planning, focusing, remembering and juggling tasks. Playing a musical instrument was associated with significantly better memory, with those who played the keyboard or piano scoring the most highly on average. People who took part in a choir also performed better on brain tests.

Anne Corbett, a professor of dementia research at the university, said: “Overall, we think that being musical could be a way of harnessing the brain’s agility and resilience, known as cognitive reserve.”

Nursing students pilot digital tool to track learning

Nursing students at the University of Dundee have been trying out a new digital tool to track their practice learning progress and achievements digitally throughout placements.

The ePad (Electronic Placement Assessment Documents) app, developed by NHS Education for Scotland, has been designed to replace a 350-page version that the students would traditionally use to record their progress in their studies, as well as the achievement of learning outcomes at their placements.

Students can access the app via laptop or mobile device through the Turas learning and management platform for health and social care. As well as logging learning outcomes and evidence, students can upload documents to their personal library. Their tutors can review, provide feedback and sign off student submissions via the digital tool.

“All e-Pad activity is led by the student nurse, who can provide access to supervisors and assessors via their Turas account. Feedback has been extremely positive, a big plus is that e-Pad rather than the paper pad means that students on virtual placements can be supported too,” said Morag Robertson, senior product manager, NES Technology Service.