News round-up 28 October

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27th October 2022 about a 5 minute read

We have a new prime minister and a new (returning) health secretary – but what will that mean for the NHS? Public health directors are warning about the potential effects of spending cuts, and Steve Barclay will have his work cut out dealing with the disruption from proposed strikes by emergency call handlers, ambulance workers and senior doctors. In more encouraging news, a programme called Our Future Health is seeking for participants to share health and genetic data to create a repository of information that could lead to earlier diagnosis and prevention.

NHS staff vote on strike action

Unison, the biggest health union, is balloting 350,000 NHS staff – including porters, nurses, paramedics and cleaners – on whether to take strike action over pay.

Along with 13 other health unions, Unison has asked for an above-inflation rise for staff. The GMB union is also balloting 7,000 ambulance workers over strike action. If a majority vote for industrial action, GMB has said, the strikes will take place before Christmas. On Monday, BT and Openreach staff, who include 999 operators, will embark upon another day of industrial action.

Hospital consultants may also go on strike. Dr Vishal Sharma, the chairman of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) consultants committee, told members last week that the government had not yet engaged with the union over senior doctors’ concerns about pay. He said that if the government failed to engage with them, they would consider industrial action.

Public health cuts must be avoided, new PM told

Directors of public health have told the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, that any cuts to public health budgets will hit poorest communities the hardest.

The directors have said that any reduction in funding in the forthcoming spending announcement will have a direct impact on the lives of the most vulnerable. Public health budgets have already been cut by about a quarter since 2015/16.

Earlier this year the government promised a slight increase in the public health budget for England, but high inflation means that services will cost more, which will lead to cuts in spending.

Black women affected more badly by aggressive breast cancer

There is a genetic link between people with African ancestry and triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), the most aggressive type of breast cancer, researchers in the US have found.

Black women diagnosed with TNBC are 28% more likely to die from it than white women with the same diagnosis, according to a study published last year in the journal JAMA Oncology. The new study, which investigated tumours from a diverse patient population, yielded a large set of genes whose expression differed in patients with African ancestry compared with patients with European ancestry.

Research by the study’s co-author, Dr Lisa Newman of Weill Cornell Medicine, has shown that TNBC is particularly common in women from countries in western sub-Saharan Africa, such as Ghana. She says the reason might be that the genetics of women from this area have been shaped over generations by battling infectious diseases such as malaria. Some of the genetic markers related to developing resistance to particular infections can also increase inflammatory responses in certain parts of the body, she said.

Health of nation study calls on millions to sign up

Our Future Health, a research programme part-funded by government, industry and charities, is calling on five million UK adults to help it create the most detailed picture ever of the nation’s health.

The project involves collecting health and genetic data and creating a long-term repository of health information. The aim is to find better ways to prevent, identify and treat illnesses like cancer and dementia early on.

Prof Sir John Bell, who chairs the programme, said the intention is to use the results to shift the focus of healthcare systems to earlier diagnosis and prevention. He said that “most diseases start many years before they become symptomatic, and it is during those initial periods that you really have the opportunity to make a difference.”

Norfolk and Norwich adopt virtual reality for dementia training

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has introduced virtual reality (VR) films to train staff in understanding people with dementia.

Using scripted scenarios written from the perspective of a person living with dementia, the four films aim to put clinicians in the shoes of their patients, by helping to immerse them in their world.

The trust hopes that the films will help healthcare professionals gain a better understanding of the challenges patients living with dementia face when on a busy inpatient ward. The VR videos can be viewed using a VR headset on a computer, laptop or mobile phone.

The educational videos were created by Dr Jordan Tsigarides, VR lead for postgraduate education at Norfolk and Norwich, who said there was a “real challenge” for health care professionals “to truly understand why patients living with dementia act in the way that they do, why they feel disorientated, confused or distressed in certain situations.”

NHSE agrees day rates of up to £1,600 for consultants and temporary managers

NHS England has approved two in three requests for trusts to bring in very senior managers and consultants on daily rates of up to £1,600.

Under rules introduced in 2019, trusts must apply for prior approval if they want to bring in someone on a temporary basis to a very senior manager or consultant role and pay them more than £750 per day. Applications are expected to set out “why an agreed rate offers value for money”.

In the six months from April this year, NHS England has approved 12 requests to pay above the threshold, with an average daily rate of nearly £1,000, and the highest being £1,600. There were 18 applications in total, meaning six were rejected.

The numbers this year represent an increase on 2021-22, when there were 11 approvals from 17 applications across the whole year.