News round-up (24 November 2023)

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24th November 2023 about a 6 minute read

While many of us are concerned about flu and Covid this winter, there are also worries about the low uptake of the MMR vaccine, which paediatricians fear could herald a resurgence of measles cases. The long NHS waiting lists continue to be a problem, with a finding that one in three adults have had to take time off work as a result of the waiting list. Elsewhere, eyebrows have been raised in some quarters at the announcement that the NHS’s major new data platform is to be created by a US spy tech company whose CEO has previously called for the service to be privatised.

GPs told to be on alert for measles cases

GPs have been advised to watch out for measles cases, as vaccine rates among young children have dropped to a 10-year low.

At least 95% of children should have received two doses of the MMR vaccine by the age of five, but latest figures show that only 84.5% had received a second shot. This is the lowest level since 2010-11.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), which issued the warning to GPs, has expressed concern that the UK is seeing a “devastating resurgence” of life-threatening diseases such as measles, because of low vaccine uptake.

Between 1 January and 30 September this year, there were 149 laboratory-confirmed measles cases in England, compared with 54 in the whole of 2022.

US firm wins NHS data platform contract

NHS England has awarded the US spy tech company Palantir a £330m contract to create a new data platform.

The decision has led some people to express concern about the security and privacy of patient medical records – and to question whether Palantir is a suitable firm to have access to such sensitive material.

The five-year contract, which has been awarded to Palantir and four partners including Accenture, involves creating and operating a federated data platform (FDP).

Palantir has worked closely with intelligence agencies and military organisations around the world, including the CIA and UK Ministry of Defence. The firm’s founder and chair, Peter Thiel, said earlier this year that the NHS makes people sick and should be privatised.

The British Medical Association described the award of the contract to Palantir as “deeply worrying”.

Herd immunity was ‘never’ government policy in pandemic, inquiry hears

Herd immunity was never government policy during the Covid pandemic, Professor Sir Chris Whitty has told the Covid inquiry.

Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said that opting for herd immunity would have been “inconceivable” and would have caused “an extraordinarily high loss of life” without necessarily achieving its goal.

He said that in about March 2020 he tried to stop ministers and others publicly discussing the idea: “Frankly, there was a lot of chatter by people who, at best, half understood the issues.”

Herd immunity was understood as allowing the virus to be transmitted unchecked through the population, which would have meant enough people catching it and developing immunity that infection rates would eventually slow.

Whitty added that there were some failures of communication, leading people to believe it had been considered as an option. “I don’t think I ever saw anybody on the record, or anybody sensible, aiming for it as a goal,” he said.

Integrated care systems struggling to meet financial goals

Integrated care systems (ICSs) are still struggling to meet their financial plans, HSJ has reported, even though hundreds of millions of pounds have been taken from investment budgets to help balance the books.

Earlier this month, NHS England announced that £800m would be made available to integrated care systems to offset the additional cost of strikes. This £800m was to be drawn from technology and capital budgets.

HSJ says that ICSs reported a combined deficit that was £1.5bn worse than planned in the six months to October. This implies a gap of several hundred million pounds, unless they can report substantial surpluses for the second half of the year.

The publication spoke to senior sources in all seven ICS regions, and found that more than half said their systems would still fail to break even, despite the funding transfers.

Parents who had fertility problems more likely to have child with autism

Children born to parents who struggled with fertility are more likely to have autism, according to new research.

A study of 1.37 million children in Canada born between 2006 and 2018 found 22,400 with a diagnosis of autism.

Nearly nine in 10 (87%) of parents in the study had their children naturally, through unassisted conception, while 10% had “subfertility”, meaning it took them a relatively long time to conceive naturally and they sought advice. Another 3% had fertility treatment such as IVF or artificial insemination (IU).

Children born to parents with “subfertility” were 20% more likely to have autism diagnosed, and those born via IVF were 16% more likely.

The reason for the connection is not known, but it could be related to age – women in the study who had had IVF were older on average than those who conceived naturally. Women with fertility problems are also more likely to have other reproductive conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, which may be linked to an increased risk of autism in children.

One in three adults miss work because of NHS waiting lists

One in three adults have missed work in the past year due to long NHS waiting lists, a survey shows.

A poll of 2,235 adults commissioned by the Liberal Democrats found that 36% needed time off work or took a sick day while waiting for NHS appointments.

The highest rate of absence was in young adults aged 18 to 35, of whom 54% missed work in the past year.

Approximately one in seven (15%) of adults said they had been forced to take a lengthy amount of time off work while waiting for NHS surgery or treatment for a health condition.

One in five (19%) said they needed time off while waiting to see a GP, and 12% missed work because they were waiting for dental treatment.

Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokeswoman, said NHS wait times were having a “detrimental effect on the entire country”.