News round-up (23 June 2023)

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22nd June 2023 about a 5 minute read

Although it’s two years since lockdown ended, the pandemic casts a long shadow. The UK’s Covid enquiry has now opened, with former chancellor George Osborne claiming that austerity measures were not responsible for Britain’s lack of preparedness. An analysis of GP records has found that rates of eating disorders among girls rose sharply during the pandemic, while a Belgian study has discovered that exposure to air pollution increased Covid patients’ hospital stays by four days.

Number of girls with eating disorders rose sharply during Covid

There was a sharp rise in teenage girls developing eating disorders during the Covid pandemic, an analysis of GP records has found.

A joint study by the University of Manchester, Keele University and University of Exeter looked at nine million records belonging to patients aged 10-24 years, from nearly 2,000 GP practices across the UK.

Between 2020 and 2022, they found 3,862 diagnoses of eating disorders amongst children aged 13-16 – 42% higher than expected based on earlier figures.

In the same age group, there were 9,174 cases of self-harm – 38% more than predicted.

The GP records also show a big rise in eating disorders since 2020 among wealthier people, with 52% of identified eating disorders occurring in the least deprived areas and 22% in the most deprived.

Austerity not to blame for poor Covid planning, Osborne tells enquiry

The former chancellor George Osborne has rejected suggestions that his austerity programme depleted health and social care capacity.

Giving evidence to the Covid enquiry, Osborne said that the austerity cuts had made Britain better prepared to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

“If we had not had a clear plan to put the public finances on a sustainable path then Britain might have experienced a fiscal crisis, we would not have had the fiscal space to deal with the coronavirus pandemic when it hit,” he said.

When questioned, Osborne said he did not think it was “particularly fair to apportion blame” for the Treasury’s failure to plan for lockdown. He said that scientific experts had focused on the need to prepare for a flu rather than a coronavirus pandemic.

Treatment delays have led to more than 100,000 patients seeing their cancer spread

More than 100,000 patients have seen their cancer spread as a result of delays to treatment, according to research by Macmillan Cancer Support.

The charity said that patients were facing “inhumane” situations because of a failure to deliver NHS care in time.

Its findings are based on a survey of 2,654 patients diagnosed with cancer in the past decade, of whom 6% said they had seen their cancer progress as a result of delays. This translates to 100,000 across the UK.

The charity’s analysis found that over the last decade, 180,000 cancer sufferers in the UK waited at least two months to start treatment after an urgent referral.

About one quarter of all those who suffered delays of several weeks or months believed the waits had contributed to their deterioration.

Scrapped Covid vaccine deal cost the taxpayer £358m

The cost of scrapping a Covid vaccine contract with the French firm Valneva was £358.6m, according to newly published figures.

Valneva was contracted to make more than 100m vaccines at its plant in West Lothian, but the UK government cancelled the deal in 2021 when it alleged that the company was in breach of the agreement. Last year the government reached a final settlement with Valneva.

The details of how much the UK government paid Valneva are available in a filing made to the United States government Securities and Exchange Commission. It shows that Valneva received €420.6m (£358.6m) as part of the supply agreement.

GPs should no longer be sole data controller, NHS England director says

GP practices should not be the sole controller of their patients’ data, Tim Ferris, NHS England’s director of transformation has said.

Giving evidence to a Lords committee on integration of primary and community care, Ferris was asked whether it was time to revisit legislation on the control of GP patient data.

He said: “Thirty years ago when the law was created, it made more sense. But I think it might no longer be fit for purpose.” He told the Lords committee that NHS England could become the joint data controller with GP practices, but that any approach would require a change in legislation. Ferris cited the example of Scotland, where health boards and GPs have been joint controllers since 2019.

Hospital Covid patients were ‘aged’ 10 years by air pollution, study shows

Patients who were exposed to air pollution experienced Covid-19 as if they were 10 years older, according to new research from Belgium. The study, which followed more than 300 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 between May 2020 and March 2021, found that people exposed to dirtier air before contracting the illness spent four days longer in hospital. This was an equivalent effect to being 10 years older.

The study also showed that air pollution levels measured in patients’ blood were linked to a 36% increase in the risk of needing intensive care treatment. A separate Danish study showed that air pollution exposure was linked to a 23% increase in the risk of death from Covid-19. In both studies, the level of air pollution was below legal EU standards.

Although previous research has suggested that air pollution led to worse Covid outcomes, these new studies are believed to be particularly reliable because they followed individual patients rather than groups.