News round-up (24 March 2023)

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23rd March 2023 about a 6 minute read

More stories this week reveal the impact of NHS pressures on service quality. UK patients are the least likely to see a GP in person, and have the shortest appointment times, according to an international survey. Some GPs are not carrying out mandatory postnatal checks, or providing cursory checks only. The number of people remaining more than three weeks in hospital after they are ready for discharged has doubled in two years, while the Wales ambulance service is having to pick up 999 calls intended for the service in England.

UK patients are the least likely to see a GP in person

British patients are the least likely to see a GP in person, an international study has found.

The findings are based on a survey by the Health Foundation of almost 10,000 GPs in 10 high-income countries, including 1,000 in the UK.

The UK and Germany had the shortest appointment times, at 10 minutes. Sweden had the longest appointments (25 minutes) with average times of 20 minutes in Switzerland and the United States. Most countries had an average of 15-minute appointments.

The authors of the research said the findings should ring “alarm bells” for the government about the state of general practice.

Large increase in number of patients stuck in hospital bed for more than three weeks

The number of patients in NHS hospitals waiting three weeks or more for discharge has doubled since December 2020.

NHS data revealed in response to freedom of information requests found that in December, 19,308 patients were stuck in hospitals in England for at least three weeks after being considered fit for discharge. In December 2020, the number was 10,922, an analysis by the Nuffield Trust has found.

Among patients who had been in hospital for at least three weeks and should have been discharged, 25% were waiting for a bed in a nursing or care home, while 23% were waiting for home care.

A survey earlier this year by analyst firm CHS Healthcare found that half of hospital workers said that the delays in discharge were caused by excessive bureaucracy. The analysts said that an average of 50 different actions, including completing paperwork, arranging transportation, and approving funding, are now required to discharge a hospital patient.

Thousands of English 999 calls answered in Wales

Thousands of 999 calls are being transferred to the Welsh Ambulance Service because they are taking more than five minutes to answer in England.

In response to a freedom of information request, HSJ found that more than 50,000 calls (1.2% of all calls made) were sent to a different ambulance service than the one intended between October and the middle of February, after a new system of routing unanswered calls was introduced.

The system automatically diverts calls that have not been answered after five minutes, rerouting them to services with current capacity, while a BT operator remains on the line until the call is answered.

During that period, the Welsh Ambulance Service took 8,094 calls, while none of its own calls were sent elsewhere. The Scottish service took 47 calls and had 100 of its own diverted elsewhere, while the Northern Ireland service had 96 calls routed elsewhere but answered none for other services.

Scotland’s minimum pricing policy leads to fall in alcohol-related deaths

Since Scotland introduced a minimum pricing for alcohol, there has been a 13% drop in the number of deaths from alcohol consumption, and hundreds fewer hospitalisations, a study has found.

Because the research, conducted by Public Health Scotland (PHS), the University of Glasgow and the University of Queensland, was observational, it does not provide conclusive proof that the fall in deaths was a result of the minimum unit pricing policy.

However, the researchers said that there had been a 13.4% reduction in the number of deaths wholly attributable to alcohol consumption compared with an estimate of the deaths that would have occurred had the legislation not been implemented.

There was also a 4.1% reduction in hospitalisations for conditions wholly attributable to alcohol consumption, equivalent to 411 hospitalisations a year.

“The findings highlight that the largest reductions were found for males, and for those living in the 40% most deprived areas, groups which are known to experience disproportionally high levels of alcohol health harms in Scotland,” said Dr Grant Wyper, public health intelligence adviser at PHS

NHS uses AI to identify high-risk patients on waiting lists

A new programme by NHS Cheshire and Merseyside integrated care board (ICB) has been successfully using AI technology to identify high-risk patients on waiting lists to help reduce their risk of deteriorating.

The programme, known as the Waiting Well initiative, is using technology provided by C2-Ai and Surgery Hero to identify most vulnerable patients awaiting surgery. The system alerts staff based on thresholds set by NHS clinicians, who can then target the patients with tailored coaching to help achieve the best possible outcome.

Surgeons say the programme has shown improved outcomes, reduced complications and shorter stays for participating patients.

Six-week postnatal checks are failing new mothers

Not all GP practices are complying with the requirement to provide six-to-eight week postnatal checks, a review of maternal mental health care has found.

The review, carried out by Healthwatch, analysed experiences of pregnancy and postnatal care shared by 2,693 new mothers since April 2020.

It found that 16% of new mothers said they hadn’t received the six-to-eight week check, while of those who had been offered it, only 22% were satisfied with the time their GP spent talking to them about their mental health. Nearly a third (30%) said that their GP didn’t mention mental health at all during the check.

One in seven said they received their six-week check over the phone, with many finding it hard to articulate their mental health problems and discuss physical issues.

Suffolk county council to offer virtual reality to support people living with dementia

Suffolk County Council is to provide a platform supporting virtual reality experiences for residents with dementia.

The contract, worth £80,000, has been awarded to Spark Emerging Technologies following an open tender process.

The contract will be split in two phases. The first phase involves creating a service user group who will be involved in the design, structure and look of the VR app to make sure it is fit for use. The app will be used with a VR headset alongside a tablet computer.

Phase one will also see the development of several VR experiences built upon suggestions on Suffolk-based places and activities that will have the most impact. Each VR film will be trialled in different care settings for people with dementia to attend.

In the second phase, Spark will offer the solution commercially.  Accredited care settings across Suffolk will be able to buy it at a reduced rate.