News round-up 23 September

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23rd September 2022 about a 4 minute read

The new health secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has made a pledge to improve patients’ access to GP appointments, as part of a new plan for the NHS. Stresses continue elsewhere in the health system, however, with the BBC finding that more than half of England’s maternity units have a safety rating of “inadequate” or “requires improvement”. Following some of the procurement failings highlighted by the pandemic, the Department of Health and Social Care has appointed David Lawson of Guy’s and St Thomas’ to lead its new medical technology directorate.

Government promises to improve access to same day GP appointments

The health secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has said she will improve patients’ ability to make GP appointments, including same-day appointments.

The promise is part of a new plan for the NHS in England, entitled Our Plan for Patients. Funding rules will be changed so that GPs can take on extra staff, including senior nurses, and pharmacists will be asked to take on more work. The hope is that this will free up 1m appointments a year.

Coffey said that no-one will have to wait more than two weeks for a routine appointment. The promise is not part of an official target, but Coffey said it should be seen as a clear expectation of what patients should be entitled to

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Lumbering a struggling service with more expectations, without a plan as to how to deliver them, will only serve to add to the intense workload and workforce pressures GPs and our teams are facing, whilst having minimal impact on the care our patients receive.”

Young people find mental health concerns a barrier to volunteering

Many young people find that mental health concerns make it harder for them to volunteer, a new government-commissioned report from the Institute for Community Studies has found.

The rapid evidence review, entitled Volunteering Journeys: Growing the youth volunteering generation, found that 11-to-30-year-olds faced a “triple burden” when trying to balance volunteering with their work, family life and mental health.

Of the regular volunteers who responded to the research, 22% said they had experienced burnout, while even those who did not volunteer regularly reported that their awareness of social issues and feelings of helplessness acted as a barrier.

Young people also reported feeling guilty when they felt unable to volunteer as a result of feeling overwhelmed by other factors in their life.

DHSC Medical Technology Directorate appoints new lead

David Lawson, a procurement lead at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust for more than 20 years, is to lead the Department of Health and Social Care’s new medical technology (MedTech) directorate.

The directorate was set up in spring 2021 to improve the supply of medical technology after the pandemic demonstrated how critical the medtech sector was to the effective functioning of the health care system. The pandemic also exposed vulnerabilities in how vital products are procured and distributed, according to an internal memo from Steve Oldfield, the department’s chief commercial officer.

Lawson will manage direct spend of £100m a year, and will be responsible for making sure that the UK’s strategic reserve of MedTech equipment, currently valued at around £750m, remains fit for purpose. 

Trusts adopt AI chatbots for waiting list service

After a successful pilot project, ChatBot software has been rolled out to patients on waiting lists in Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS trusts.

The ChatBot automated call system takes patients on a waiting list through a series of questions about their health, enabling trusts to be aware of any patients whose conditions have deteriorated and who need to be prioritised for treatment.

It was trialled by over 2,000 patients, who received an automated call asking about their health condition. Three-quarters responded to the call, and of those, 15% indicated they were ready to leave the waiting list, helping to free up waiting list capacity. A further 10% of patients indicated they needed an appointment sooner.

The ChatBot service is now being extended to a further 2,000 patients in Blackpool and East Lancashire.

More than half of maternity units in England failing to meet safety standards

Maternity units in England are consistently failing to meet safety standards, according to a BBC analysis of data from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which regulates the sector.

Of the 137 maternity units in England, CQC currently rates nine (7%) of units as inadequate for safety – the lowest possible rating –  while 66 (48%) require improvement. Another 62 (45%) had a “good” rating, but none had a safety rating of “outstanding”.

Despite the publication of reports highlighting poor maternity care in England, and government investment of £127m in the service, the service has not improved. In December 2016, 50% of maternity and gynaecology units had a safety rating of “good”.