News round-up (3 March 2023)

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2nd March 2023 about a 5 minute read

Two reports, from the Public Accounts Committee and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, show that the NHS is failing to meet targets for seeing patients in need of urgent care. At a time when the NHS is short of doctors, the GMC has expressed concerns that Black trainee doctors are being disadvantaged in medical exams. There is cheering news, however, from a University of Cambridge study, which shows that a brisk walk every day cuts the risk of premature death.

NHS is performing poorly on cancer, MPs say

The NHS’s performance on cancer is going backwards, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of MPs has said.

The PAC report says that “the NHS is in full-blown crisis and all the metrics are going in the wrong direction.” It singles out cancer as being of particular concern, as the proportion of cancer patients facing long waits for treatment has increased.

The most recent quarterly data shows just that just 61% of urgent referrals started treatment within 62 days, compared with the target of 85%.

The report said that the NHS in England will miss key targets for recovery, including a pledge to hit the 62-day target for starting treatment by March of this year.

Daily walk prevents 1 in 10 early deaths

A short, brisk walk every day could prevent premature death in one in 10 cases, research has found.

The NHS recommends that people should undertake 150-300 minutes of physical activity a week. A University of Cambridge research team reviewed hundreds of studies on the benefits of physical activity and concluded that even doing half the recommended amount could prevent one in 20 cases of cardiovascular disease and nearly one in 30 cases of cancer.

That suggests that even 75 minutes a week, or 11 minutes a day, of exercise reduces a person’s risk of illness or death. Exercise could include riding a bike, walking fast, hiking, dancing or playing tennis.

Black trainee doctors experience inequalities, GMC says

New research from the General Medical Council, published in HSJ, shows that during training, Black doctors on average perform worse in exams than any other ethnic group.

The report finds that UK medical graduates of Black or Black British heritage have a specialty exam pass rate of 62%, the lowest of all ethnic groups, and almost 20 percentage points lower than that of white doctors, who have a pass rate of 79%. It is the first time the GMC has disaggregated the data by ethnicity.

The GMC said that poorer outcomes may be compounded by socio-economic status, with Black/Black British trainees from areas with higher deprivation having an even lower exam pass rate. The research found a 10 percentage point gap in pass rates between the lowest and highest social economic backgrounds on average.

Scottish government publishes health and social care data strategy

The Scottish government has published a data strategy for health and social care, following a recent consultation analysis.

The strategy sets out the Scottish government’s “vision and ambitions to ensure that the data landscape is best placed to support key priorities.” These ambitions are to assist “key missions across the health and social care sector, such as improving population health and reducing health inequalities”.

The document is split into several key areas: ethical approaches to data; data access; talent and culture; protecting and sharing data; technology and infrastructure; information standards and interoperability; creating insights from data; supporting research and innovation; and aligning work to Scotland’s priorities.

Its overarching principles for a digital nation are to be inclusive, ethical and user-focused; collaborative; data-driven; technology-enabled; innovative and sustainable; and secure by design. They also include having digital leadership and culture, and a skilled workforce.

NHS Highland adopts digital pre-operative pathway

NHS Highland is launching a new digital pre-operative assessment pathway to help make sure that every planned operation is feasible. 

The new system, Synopsis, will be used as part of NHS Highland’s National Treatment Centre, due to open in Inverness in April. The central electronic system will be fully auditable and can be used by multiple users simultaneously.

It will include a digital health questionnaire that patients can complete at home. To make sure that no patient is disadvantaged, existing telephone and in-person appointments will remain in place.

Significant rise in children receiving treatment for eating disorders

There has been a 66% rise in children and young people receiving urgent eating disorder treatment since 2019, according to a study by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The College’s analysis of data also found a rise in the number of people seeking help, a large proportion of whom are children and teenagers. All regions in England, it says, are failing to meet the government target for when patients should be seen.

The NHS target for children and young people is for 95% of urgent patients to be seen within one week and routine patients to be seen within four weeks following a referral. Its own estimates for quarter three of 2022/23 suggest 78% of patients are seen within a week and 81% within four weeks against this target.