News round-up 2 September

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2nd September 2022 about a 4 minute read

In what may be one of his last acts as health secretary, Steve Barclay has ordered NHS arm’s-length bodies to freeze recruitment, as part of a wider efficiency review. Problems with the discharge of patients from hospital into domiciliary care continue, with some medically fit patients waiting up to nine months for discharge. More encouragingly, a pioneering project in Lancashire will see medical supplies delivered between hospitals by drone, cutting delivery times and improving the operation of pathology labs.

Health secretary orders recruitment freeze in NHS bodies

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has told NHS England, the Care Quality Commission and other national agencies to implement a freeze on almost all recruitment, as part of a wider efficiency review that includes reducing spend on consultancy.

A letter to all arm’s-length bodies from the Department of Health and Social Care earlier this week said that Barclay would arrange meetings with them to “understand each organisation’s plans” in respect of recruitment. The letter said that the freeze on recruitment would be subject to a “small number of exceptions, signed off at director general level, where a vacancy meets a set of strict criteria and cannot be resourced internally due to an absence of the relevant skill set.”

NHS England has a number of senior roles to fill, and recently advertised publicly for a deputy chief operating officer and national director of urgent and emergency care. It told HSJ, however, that it had already implemented a freeze on recruitment.

Drones will deliver medical samples across Lancashire

Two hospital trusts in Lancashire are about to pioneer the use of drone technology to deliver medical samples between hospital sites.

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT) and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust work with two local enterprises, Digital & Future Technologies and Miralis Data Limited, to deliver the 20-month project. In the first phase, medical samples will be transported between the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, Westmorland General and Furness General Hospital.

The electrically-charged drones, developed by UK company SkyLift UAV, are expected to cut delivery times by more than an hour. This will help to optimise the operation of pathology labs and provide quicker access to results.

They will operate on specific routes between the hospitals in their own dedicated airspace, 250 feet above ground level, for a trial period of 90 days. This has been made possible by the support of the Civil Aviation Authority and cooperation from large private sector organisations.

The project is being implemented with the help of £1.4 million in funding from UK Research and Innovation.

Patients fit for discharge stuck in hospital for up to nine months

Medically fit patients are waiting up to nine months to be discharged from some NHS hospitals, HSJ has reported.

The data, which comes from freedom of information requests to seven trusts, shows that in most cases, the long delays were caused by a lack of domiciliary care. Other factors included waits for equipment in people’s own homes.

At North Bristol Trust, one patient waited more than nine months to be discharged, while another waited around eight months. There were delays of six months or more at North Cumbria Integrated Care Foundation Trust and Gloucestershire Hospitals FT.

Covid inquiry begins investigating PM’s pandemic decisions

The UK inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has started to investigate decisions made by Boris Johnson and his senior advisers in early 2020.

This stage of inquiry, Module 2, will look into decisions and announcements made by the UK government between early January and late March 2020. These include the timing of lockdown and the delays into testing. For now, the inquiry will focus on examining official documents, but it is likely to call Boris Johnson and former health secretary Matt Hancock as witnesses in the spring.

Sir Chris Whitty, the UK government’s chief medical adviser during the pandemic, and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, are also likely to appear before the inquiry.

Deep brain stimulation targets binge eating in promising study

A brain implant that electrically stimulates a region of the brain has shown promising results in treating patients with binge eating disorder (BED), a small pilot has found.

Following a successful study in mice, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania implanted a device into the nucleus accumbens region of the brains of two patients.  This part of the brain, which is involved in processing pleasure and rewards, has been linked to addiction. Over the next six months, whenever the device detected signals found to predict food cravings in previous studies, it stimulated that region to disrupt the craving-related signal. During this period, both patients reported far fewer binge episodes, and lost weight.

The researchers are now recruiting patients to take part in a larger study.