News round-up (3 May 2024)

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3rd May 2024 about a 6 minute read

As waiting lists for mental health treatment grow, Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour Party leader, has promised to reform mental health services, provide more trained mental health staff  and create an early-intervention hub in every community. Digital technologies continue to gain ground in the field of mental health, with NHS Wales’s digital mental health service reaching 30,000 referrals. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration is to launch an innovative programme using augmented reality and virtual reality to offer better health support for people in their own home, with the aim of tackling unequal access to healthcare.

Main stories from the week 

Coventry University using AI avatars to train medical students

A researcher at Coventry University is using artificial intelligence (AI) to create virtual patients for health care training.

Childhood cognitive ability not linked to depression in adulthood

There is no association between cognitive ability in childhood and depression in adulthood, a meta-analysis has found.

Covid inquiry accused of ignoring reality of mental health problems caused by lockdown

The charity Mind has called on the chair of the Covid inquiry to assess the impact the Covid lockdown had on people’s mental health.

Number of new mothers accessing mental health treatment rises dramatically

The number of new and expectant mothers in England receiving specialist support for mental health problems has almost doubled in the last three years, according to new figures published by ITV News.


And other stories from the week…

Keir Starmer promises mental health reforms under a Labour government

Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour party, has said he will reform mental health services if Labour gets into power.

Noting that 120,000 children waited six months or longer between referral for mental health support and treatment in 2022-23, he described the waiting times as “a scar on a civilised society”. He said that Labour would improve the Mental Health Act and provide 8,500 specially-trained mental health staff, support in every school and an open access early intervention hub in every community, paid for by closing tax loopholes.

He added: “My Labour government will inject resource and reform into NHS mental health services to not just turn around the shocking figures and give people their lives back, but to completely overhaul the way our country approaches mental health.”

HoloSurge awarded €8.9 million Horizon Europe grant to improve surgical planning with hologram technology 

One of the largest EU grants in recent history has been awarded to HoloSurge, a four-year project that aims to reduce the risk of complications during planned surgery.

The €8.9 million grant from Horizon Europe will fund the further development of organ hologram technology to power informed surgical decision-making.

This technology, developed by Norwegian medtech company HoloCare, currently provides liver surgeons with interactive 3D holograms of organs, and is used by doctors to plan and tailor operations to each person’s individual anatomy.

It is initially being used for liver surgeries at five hospitals in Europe, including Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust. So far, trials show a 74% reduction in the time taken to align organs during surgery using HoloCare’s AR images versus MRI scans, according to the group.

FDA initiative puts augmented reality at heart of home health drive 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates medical products in the US, is to launch a programme that uses augmented reality and virtual reality to make patients’ own homes an integral part of the healthcare system.

The initiative, entitled Home as a Health Care Hub, is part of a drive to tackle health inequality among people from some ethnic minority populations and those who live in lower-income neighbourhoods.

The FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) will design an augmented reality and virtual reality-enabled prototype home, to explore how these technologies can be integrated with the healthcare system.

The prototype – which is initially being developed using diabetes as a model illness – will be completed later this year.

An FDA spokesperson said that the current healthcare model had been undermined by shortages in primary care physicians and specialists, rising costs, and growing numbers of people with chronic diseases. The aim of the new programme is to address this problem by diverting resources to those with the most urgent and critical needs, and to offer personalised care for those managing chronic conditions.

US nurses protest against the use of AI in hospitals 

Hundreds of nurses in the US last week joined a protest against the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare.

The protest, outside the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco, was organised by the California Nurses Association, who believe the hospital industry is rushing to implement AI technology that is untested and unregulated – and could harm patients.

According to a video posted by the San Francisco Chronicle to X, nurses displayed signs reading “Trust Nurses Not AI” and chanted “AI has got to go!”

The association is calling for nurses and all union members to be involved in the decision-making process for the deployment of AI in “every step”.

Cathy Kennedy, a nurse at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center said: “Human expertise and clinical judgment are the only ways to ensure safe, effective, and equitable nursing care. We know there is nothing inevitable about AI’s advancement into healthcare. No patient should be a guinea pig and no nurse should be replaced by a robot.”

NHS Wales’ digital mental health service has reached 30,000 referrals 

NHS Wales’ online mental health support service has received 30,000 referrals since its pilot launch six years ago.

The free service was successfully trialled in Powys in May 2018 and expanded across Wales three years later in response to the Covid pandemic. The service, which is funded by the Welsh government, is based at Powys Teaching Health Board.

Fionnuala Clayton, the service’s project manager, said the referrals milestone reflected NHS Wales’s determination to break down barriers to care, and demonstrated the public were willing to embrace digital provision. She said: “Tens of thousands of people have discovered the benefits of our online support service, which has no waiting lists, fits in with their lifestyle and focuses on prevention first.

“With new referral pathways already in place and more exciting developments in the pipeline, it looks set to go from strength to strength. We look forward to continuing our support offer to more patients as the project continues.”

Headspace launches direct-to-consumer mental health services 

Headspace, the mental health platform, has announced that it is now offering mental health coaching for its direct-to-consumer subscriber base and will bring therapy services to consumers later in 2024.

From this month, US consumers can sign up to access one-on-one support from a mental health coach, enabling them to tackle a wide range of life challenges that may not require a therapist.

Headspace mental health coaches aim to help people with issues such as managing everyday stress, building healthier relationships and improving emotional resilience.

Since its 2021 merger with the mental health provider Ginger, Headspace has provided mental health coaching to individuals whose employers and health plans subsidise it as a benefit.

An observational study of Headspace’s B2B members showed that the company’s coaching services led to improvements in symptoms of everyday anxiety and depression.