News round-up (22 September 2023)

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22nd September 2023 about a 5 minute read

As a new variant of the Covid virus arrives, the offer of Covid booster jabs in England has been extended to those over 65. New winter funding promised to the NHS by the prime minister, however, will be used to cover strike action costs, not to deal with the extra winter pressures caused by flu and Covid. In an effort to reduce the burden on the NHS, GPs are to be asked to seek advice from consultants in some cases rather than refer patients to hospital.

Over-65s to be offered Covid jabs

People aged 65 and over in England are being offered a free booster vaccine against Covid, as hospital admissions for people with the disease rise.

The rollout has been brought forward as a precaution against the new VA.2.86 Covid variant. Hospital admissions of patients testing positive for Covid are at 4.6 per 100,000 people, the highest rate since April, but still below the level reached last winter – 11.8 per 100,000.

Steve Russell, NHS director for vaccinations and screening, said: “The new Covid variant presents a new risk, but NHS staff are rising to the challenge once more to do all they can to protect the public.

“Vaccines are our best protection against flu and Covid-19, and I strongly encourage all eligible people to come forward for their life-saving winter vaccines as soon as they can.”

People who are eligible can book via the NHS website, on the NHS app, or by calling 119.

About 165 tonnes of medicines wasted in Northern Ireland every year

The public in Northern Ireland disposes of an estimated 165 tonnes of unused medicines through community pharmacies every year, most of which were prescribed for patients.

Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has previously estimated that medicines wasted in Northern Ireland are valued at £18m annually, with a further cost of £650,000 to safely dispose of these unused medicines.

The new figures have been released by the department in a drive to reduce the amount of money spent unnecessarily on prescribed medicines in health and social care.

The department said Northern Ireland uses more of almost every type of medicine than other parts of the UK, and that the number of prescriptions written for patients is rising each year.

Patients are being urged to only order the medicines that they need and use and not to stockpile.

GPs told not to refer patients to hospital in NHS drive to cut needless appointments

In an attempt to cut the number of unnecessary appointments, GPs will be discouraged from referring some patients to hospital.

A national strategy due later this year will aim to reduce the number of patients sent to hospital, by insisting that family doctors discuss seeking advice from consultants on more cases.

Those working on the scheme said it could mean patients receive help more quickly, without having to go to hospital. It will mean that instead of making a referral, family doctors will be expected to send details of a patient’s condition to a specialist who can advise on the best course of action.

Patients’ groups expressed concern, however, that it would introduce “a new form of rationing”.

Regulation of NHS managers is coming, says NHSE

Regulation of NHS managers in the wake of the Lucy Letby murders at the Countess of Chester Hospital “is coming,” the chief operating officer of NHS England has said.

The health and social care secretary Steve Barclay has asked NHS England to revisit the idea. Proposals to bar managers guilty of serious misconduct from the NHS were drawn up in 2019, but were not backed by government. After the Lucy Letby conviction, it became clear that Countess of Chester bosses who had failed to act on concerns had moved on to similar posts elsewhere in the NHS.

Amanda Pritchard, the CEO of NHS England, has been asked to look at the issue again, and her deputy, Sir Jim Mackey, interim chief operating officer of the NHS, suggested it was only a matter of time before regulation of managers is introduced.

Extra NHS winter funding will be used to cover strike action costs

Extra NHS winter funding announced by the prime minister last week will in fact be used to cover trusts’ additional costs linked to strike action, the publication HSJ has reported.

Last week, Rishi Sunak announced an additional £200m to “bolster the health service during its busiest period,” and claimed it would “boost resilience and help patients get the care they need quicker”.

In a note sent to local finance chiefs on Friday, however, NHS England said the extra cash would be held back for now, to be used later in 2023-24 to cover costs expected to be caused by industrial action.

Deputy chief financial officer Ed Waller wrote: “At this point, the government is asking the NHS to maintain its current levels of activity and to minimise the impact of strikes on patient care…Given the ongoing discussions about the wider impact of industrial action, we are not allocating the £200m to systems immediately.”

Dozens of children harmed by failings in audiology care     

Dozens of children have been severely harmed after failings in audiology care, HSJ has reported.

Two trusts have said that between them, 30 children suffered severe harm after the failings. Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Foundation Trust said an external investigation had revealed 14 such cases, while Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust found 16 more.

In total, there are now 36 confirmed or suspected severe harm cases from paediatric audiology failings across six English trusts. NHS England wrote to all 42 integrated care boards at the end of August, asking them to ensure that the 130 paediatric hearing services in England were running safely. The then-chief operating officer David Sloman and chief science officer Sue Hill said that the NHSE “review of these trusts has identified root causes that have led to poor service delivery and outcomes… [which include] lack of clinical governance and oversight, poor reporting of data, poor interpretation of results, poor retention of diagnostic data, and lack of accreditation.”