This week’s headlines are dominated by clinical problems caused by poor or failing NHS infrastructure: hospitals using obsolete imaging equipment; delays to a new cancer screening system; and patient care suffering as hospital buildings fall into disrepair.
The launch of an IT system for cervical cancer screening, designed to replace a system said to have failed thousands of patients, has been delayed indefinitely.
The system was due to be launched this month but has been put back because of “significant risks and complexities” in the delivery, NHS Digital said.
The journal HSJ reported that the delay is like to lead to delays in the replacement of other outdated screening systems for bowel, breast and abdominal aortic aneurysm.
One in three NHS trusts in England are using scanners that are at least 10 years old, making them technically obsolete.
A freedom of information (FOI) request by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme found that 34.5% hospital trusts have at least one magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner that is 10 years old or more, while 27.1% have at least one computerised tomography (CT) scanner 10 years old or more. One MRI scanner at Great Ormond Street Hospital Trust is 21 years old, while half of the MRI scanners at London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust are 16 years old.
Dr Julian Elford, a consultant radiologist and medical director at the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR), said: “Older kit breaks down frequently, is slower, and produces poorer quality images, so upgrading is critical.”
Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust is to implement artificial intelligence (AI) to help clinicians detect dementia.
Cognetivity Neuroscience’s Integrated Cognitive Assessment (ICA) software will be deployed in both primary and secondary care sites across the trust. The company says it has the ability to detect dementia up to 15 years earlier than conventional methods, even before memory symptoms present.
The test is shorter in duration than traditional pen and paper testing. It also uses automatic marking and has higher classification accuracy.
Figures released on Thursday show that three-quarters of funding by English local authorities on adult social care is for long-term support.
The figures, based on the adult Social Care Finance Return (ASC-FR) and Short and Long Term (SALT) collection, also show that this is the first year more money has been spent on clients aged 18-64 receiving long term support, than on those aged 65 and over, since the collection began in 2014-15.
Gross current expenditure on adult social care by local authorities in 2021 was £21.2 billion, representing an increase of £1.6 billion from the previous year. This is an 8.1% increase in cash terms and a 1.3% increase in real terms. This is partly the consequence of an increase in government funding in 2020-21 to support the adult social care sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This year (2020-21) saw the first year-on-year increase in clients supported, up 2,715 to a total of 841,245 clients. This may have been influenced by the inclusion of activity funded under Covid-19 hospital discharge arrangements.
There has been an increase in the number of infrastructure failures in English hospitals, as well as an increase in the cost of repairing outdated parts of the NHS estate, according to a report in HSJ.
The report, based on figures published by NHS Digital, revealed that in 2021 there were nearly 7,000 “clinical service incidents caused by estates and infrastructure failure,” an increase of 15% on the previous year. In 2016-17, there were only 2,338 such incidents.
Clinical service incidents are defined as infrastructure failures that have interfered with clinical services in some way. These could be things like power outages, building defects, a lack of appropriate physical facilities or a shortfall of staff such as porters.