News round-up (22 December 2023)

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22nd December 2023 about a 5 minute read

Innovation is making headlines this week, as the UK regulator approves a new drug to treat menopausal hot flushes, while a Scottish hospital pilots an AI app that can assess a patient’s pain level. It could be a challenging winter ahead for the NHS, however, as a new Covid subvariant is spreading fast, while the health secretary has told underperforming trusts to “buck up” their ideas.

Drug to prevent hot flushes approved for use in UK

A drug that prevents hot flushes during the menopause has been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for use in the UK.

The drug, known as Veoza, was approved by the US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, in May.

Hot flushes affect about 70% of women going through the menopause. Women can suddenly and overwhelmingly feel hot, which often has an impact on their quality of life, exercise, sleep and productivity.

Currently the most commonly used treatment for hot flushes is hormone replacement therapy (HRT), but it is not suitable for women with a history of breast or ovarian cancer, blood clots or with untreated high blood pressure. Some women experience side-effects.

Veoza is a prescription-only medicine and will initially be available privately from 5 January, until the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) decides whether to make it available on the NHS.

New Covid variant is spreading fast

A sub-variant of the Omicron strain of coronavirus is spreading fast and has been classified as a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The subvariant, JN.1, has been found in many countries around the world, including India, China, the UK and the United States. It is currently the fastest-growing variant in the US, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, accounting for 15-29% of infections.

The risk to the public is currently low and current vaccines continue to offer protection, the WHO says.

It warns, however, that Covid and other infections could rise this winter.

The incidence of respiratory viruses such as flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and childhood pneumonia are also on the rise in the northern hemisphere.

Patients’ experiences of disease should be taken more seriously, researchers say

Doctors should pay more attention to patients’ experiences, a research study by the University of Cambridge and King’s College London has concluded.

The study found that clinicians ranked patient self-assessments as the least important when making diagnostic decisions.

It also found that ethnicity and gender influenced a doctor’s diagnosis, and there was a perception that women were more likely to be told their symptoms were psychosomatic. Male clinicians were more likely to say that patients overplay symptoms.

The study was published in the journal Rheumatology. Researchers used neuropsychiatric lupus – an autoimmune disease that affects the brain, spinal cord or other nerves – to examine the values given by clinicians to 13 different types of evidence used in diagnoses. These included evidence such as brain scans, patient views, and the observations of family and friends. Clinicians ranked their own views highest, while fewer than 4%  ranked patients’ self-assessments in the top three types of evidence.

Golden hellos for dentists who stay in NHS for 3 years, Labour pledges

New dentists will be offered £20,000 “golden hellos,” on condition that they agree to work in the NHS for three years, the Labour Party has said.

The policy was announced by Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, in response to widespread problems in accessing a dentist. NHS data shows that eight in 10 dental practices no longer register adult patients.

Under Labour’s plan, one in five trainee dentists would receive golden hello, which would require them to work in “dental deserts” – areas that are short of qualified dentists. They would have to work there for three years or pay the money back.

A recent report by the Nuffield Trust, a think tank, said that universal NHS dentistry had now likely “gone for good” and that there were “unpalatable choices” ahead.

Five poorly-performing NHS trusts told to ‘buck up their ideas’ by health secretary

The heads of the NHS trusts with the worst ambulance queues and most chaos in A&E have been told to “buck up their ideas” by Victoria Atkins, the health secretary.

In some trusts, patients face waits of as much as 10 hours in ambulances parked outside A&E units.

The five trusts named by Atkins were: University Hospitals Plymouth Trust, Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, Gloucestershire Hospitals Foundation Trust, The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust and Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust.

Atkins’s decision to meet with the heads of the trusts was prompted by unpublished data showing a deterioration in performance in areas that already had appalling records for ambulance and A&E delays.

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary to trial AI-based pain assessment app

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary will become the first UK hospital to trial an AI-powered pain assessment tool.

The app, PainChek, is designed to help patients determine their level of pain if they’re unable to self-report reliably. This includes people with dementia, for example.

PainChek has been approved by regulators and can be installed on a smartphone or tablet. It works by analysing micro-facial expressions indicative of pain. This allows carers to identify when a patient is experiencing pain, quantify the severity and monitor the impact of treatments and to optimise quality of care.

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary is now embarking on a 12-week trial as part of a wider global partnership with InterSystems. The trial will help determine PainChek’s viability as an intervention for healthcare providers and see how easily it can be applied in a hospital setting within time constraints.