News round-up (26 May 2023)

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25th May 2023 about a 5 minute read

New figures show that more and more people are accessing private health care for operations and treatments, probably in response to long NHS waiting lists. At the same time, prime minister Rishi Sunak is to allow private clinics to run cancer checks for the NHS, in an effort to tackle the NHS backlog. Thousands of nurses and midwives are leaving the register, however, partly as a result of heavy workload – further increasing the stress on the health service.

Number of people paying privately for operations increased by third since pandemic

The number of people paying privately for operations and treatments has risen by more than a third since the start of the pandemic.

Figures from the Private Healthcare Information Network show that last year, 272,000 people in the UK used their own money to pay for treatments – up from 199,000 in 2019.

The rise appears to be a consequence of the long backlog for treatments on the NHS. There are currently 7.3m people waiting for NHS treatment in England, an increase of nearly 3m since the start of the pandemic.

There has, however, been a shift away from the use of private insurance. Just under 550,000 people used private insurance to fund their treatment – 30,000 fewer than three years ago.

Thousands of midwives and nurses leave profession because of stress

Last year, 27,000 nurses and midwives in the UK left the register, with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) saying that retention was now becoming a major concern.

In a survey conducted by the NMC, retirement was the most common reason for leaving the register, but health and exhaustion were cited as the next most common reasons. Most respondents had left the profession earlier than they planned.

Andrea Sutcliffe, the chief executive of the NMC, said: “There are clear warnings workforce pressures are driving people away. Many are leaving earlier than planned, because of burnout and exhaustion, lack of support from colleagues, concerns about quality of care and workload and staffing levels.”

A record 52,000 people joined the register, however. Nearly half were recruited from abroad – but the number of those trained domestically rose the most.

Thousands of outsourced staff miss out on NHS pay rise

Tens of thousands of outsourced staff may miss out on part of the NHS pay deal agreed with the government, according to a report in HSJ.

Last month, the health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said that the new pay deal would be implemented for “all staff on the Agenda for Change contract”.

It seems, however, that staff working in social enterprises, charities, outsourced services and wholly owned subsidiaries, many of whom work under Agenda for Change terms and conditions or have their pay index-linked to the contract, may not receive all of the increase. Some primary care staff may also be affected. The Department of Health and Social Care told HSJ that funding for the additional non-consolidated payments for 2022-23, worth on average £2,000, would only be covered for staff directly employed by NHS organisations.

Private companies will run cancer check centres for NHS

Private health companies will run cancer check centres for the NHS, the government is about to announce.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak is to use the private sector as part of his efforts to clear the NHS backlog and speed up patients’ access to treatment.

Part of the plan involves allowing people to use the NHS app to choose where they are treated, which will include private hospitals. Rather than having to make the choice at the point of referral, they will be able to decide to switch hospital later in the process, if they are frustrated by a long wait. Patients who have waited a number of months will be actively offered a choice of provider, as well as having the right to ask for one

Failure to tackle problem drinking has led to public health crisis

The government’s failure to tackle alcohol harm in England has led to a serious public health crisis, according to a report by parliament’s public accounts committee.

The report says that problem drinking is fuelling violent crime and costing the NHS £25bn a year, with the number of deaths rising by 89% in two decades. There has also been a sharp rise since 2019. Yet the number of people able to receive treatment for alcohol dependency has been falling, the committee of MPs found.

The MPs also accuse the government of slashing hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of funding for support services, breaking promises and abandoning policies aimed at resolving the crisis.

New NHS online service aims to eliminate Hepatitis C

NHS England and Preventx, the health care technology company, have jointly launched a remote testing service for hepatitis C.

The aim of the online testing portal is to support the NHS’s ambition to eliminate the virus ahead of the World Health Organization’s target of eradicating it by 2030.

The portal combines Preventx’s self-sampling service and specialist in-house laboratory. It has been designed and built by the company, on behalf of NHS England.

The digital service is able to turn around negative tests in 48-hours, and positive tests in 72-hours, an improvement on the current NHS rates for testing. This will enable the NHS to provide faster treatment.

The use of remote diagnostics can also help increase the uptake of testing in communities that don’t traditionally engage with in-person services. Anyone who is worried they might have hepatitis C will be able to access testing easily.