News round-up (21 July 2023)

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21st July 2023 about a 5 minute read

More bad news for patients: the waiting list for treatment in England has increased again since April, and is now at its highest ever. At the same time, new figures reveal that children face long wait times for dental procedures. There is potentially promising news for pregnant women, however, as Addenbrooke’s Hospital embarks on a major trial to improve our understanding of pre-eclampsia. And two new dementia drugs have shown positive results – but await approval by the regulator.

NHS waiting lists reach record levels

NHS waiting lists have reached their worst ever level, figures released by NHS England have revealed.

At the end of May, 7.47 million patients in England were waiting for treatment, an increase of 50,000 since April. The figures also showed that the number of patients waiting more than a year for treatment increased in May, up nearly 4% from the previous month to 385,022.

The proportion of cancer patients who saw a specialist within two weeks of being referred urgently by their GP rose from 77.7% in April to 80.8% in May, however, but remained below the target of 93%. Cancer Research UK said the figures represented “excruciating waits for already anxious patients”.

Thousands of first-time mothers take part in pre-eclampsia study

Nearly 3,500 first-time mothers are to take part in research to improve understanding of pre-eclampsia, a condition that affects pregnant women.

The research, led by Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, aims to discover why some women develop pre-eclampsia and other placental complications. It will also look at how these complications can affect women’s long-term health.

Pre-eclampsia can affect pregnant women from the twentieth week of pregnancy. Symptoms can include high blood pressure and protein in the urine, and it can lead to serious complications if not monitored or treated.

Prof Ian Wilkinson, one of the co-leaders of the study, said it would provide a better understanding as to why “common complications of pregnancy adversely affect women’s long-term cardiovascular health”.

NHS is ‘tech-averse health care system’, ex-government adviser says

A cut to the NHS technology budget has been criticised by Sir John Bell, an immunologist and geneticist who has previously advised the government.

Bell made the comments in a talk at the Tony Blair Institute’s Future of Britain conference earlier this week. “The fact our tech funding fell to less than £1bn this year, out of a total budget of £180bn, is, I think, pretty outrageous actually,” he said.  “Without fixing that we’re not going to fix the health system.”

Describing the NHS as a “technology-averse health care system” he said that NHS spending on medicines was “much lower than peers and if you look at our access to technology – like MRI and CR scanners – we’re right at the back. We just don’t do it.”

He added that rapid technology development and adoption was needed to enable mass early diagnosis of diseases, and new treatment therapies.

Thousands of children face ‘heartbreaking’ waits for NHS dental care

Thousands of children in England are experiencing very long waits for NHS dental care, new figures show.

Data obtained by the Liberal Democrats from the NHS Business Services Authority under freedom of information laws shows that children in some parts of England are waiting up to 18 months on average for dental procedures under general anaesthetic, principally tooth extractions. Some have waited several years.

The data was taken from a survey carried out by the NHSBSA of community dental services across the country. It reveals that they are struggling as a result of staff shortages, patient demand and pressure on hospital capacity.

Health regulators urged to approve new dementia drugs

Results from a landmark study show that donanemab, a drug made by Eli Lilly, slowed cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients by 35%.

Trial results published last year have also showed that a second drug, lecanemab, made by Eisai and Biogen, reduced the rate by 27%.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, the executive director of research and partnerships at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said it was critical for regulators to approve the drugs speedily to make sure that patients do not experience frustrating waits for new and effective treatments.

“We now have two potentially life-changing Alzheimer’s treatments on the horizon and we need to see rapid regulatory decisions so people who could benefit from these treatments aren’t left in limbo,” Kohlhaas said. “After 20 years without new Alzheimer’s medicines, people affected by this disease deserve to have answers about new treatments as quickly as possible.”

9 in 10 people willing to share data with NHS, report finds

Nine out of 10 people are willing to share their data with the NHS for any purpose, according to a new report from the Boston Consulting Group Centre for Growth.

The report, Towards a healthier, wealthier UK: unlocking the value of healthcare data, looks at how the UK can capitalise on healthcare data and tackle both the poor outlook for the economy and the pressure on our healthcare system.

The public support is dependent on how data will be used. The use of healthcare data should be focused on delivering positive outcomes in the area of prevention, understanding diseases, clinical trials and clinical care, the report found. It also says  that 73% of people supported their healthcare data being used to help understand their likelihood of illness, while 72% were happy for it to be used to enable improvements in clinical care processes.