News round-up (5 January 2024)

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5th January 2024 about a 5 minute read

In a good start to the year, there is an exciting report about the discovery of a new antibiotic that can kill previously resistant bacteria. There is also positive news of an antibody that can cut the number of babies hospitalised with RSV, a winter virus, by 80%. The NHS’s woes continue, however, as stroke patients face long waits for specialist care, while supply chain problems with medication have led to an outbreak of the skin disease scabies in parts of the country.

New antibiotic can kill drug-resistant bacteria

Scientists at Harvard University have discovered a new class of antibiotic that kills one of the three bacteria known to be resistant to other antibiotics.

The new antibiotic, Zosurabalpin, defeated previously drug-resistant strains of the bacterium Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii (Crab) in mouse models of pneumonia and sepsis. It is now being tested in human trials.

Crab is classified as a priority 1 critical pathogen by the World Health Organization, alongside two other drug-resistant forms of bacteria – Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Enterobacteriaceae.

Bacteria that have developed resistance to antibiotics pose a major threat to human health, particularly those caused by a group of bacteria known as Gram-negative bacteria, which are protected by an outer shell containing a substance called lipopolysaccharide (LPS). LPS allows bacteria to survive in harsh environments, and to evade attack by the immune system.

No new antibiotic for Gram-negative bacteria has been approved in more than 50 years

Almost three million people seen for a cancer check in 2023

Almost three million people have been seen for an urgent cancer check over the last 12 months, according to new analysis of data from NHS England.

The number being tested has increased by more than a quarter compared with the same period before the pandemic.

The analysis shows that a record 2,980,258 people in England received an urgent cancer check between November 2022 and October 2023.

The number tested was up by 5% on the previous year, and 26% on the same period in 2018-2019.

The figures also show that while a record number of people were tested in England in October, more than 78,500, or 29%, had to wait longer than the four-week target to then find out if they had cancer. In the same month, only 63.1% of patients started treatment within two months of an urgent referral, well under the 85% target.

Antibody jab for RSV could cut baby hospitalisations by 80%

Hospital admissions from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a winter virus, could be reduced by more than 80% if babies are given a single dose of a new antibody treatment, a study has found.

RSV usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, but it can lead to bronchiolitis and pneumonia. More than 30,000 under-fives are hospitalised with RSV in the UK annually, resulting in 20-30 deaths.

The Harmonie study involved 8,000 children up to the age of 12 months in the UK, France and Germany, with half receiving a single dose of the monoclonal antibody treatment nirsevimab.

The results showed that RSV-related hospitalisation was reduced by 83% in those receiving the treatment, while admissions for all chest infections were cut by 58%.

Side effects were mostly mild.

Surge in scabies across UK, doctors report

Doctors are reporting a surge in scabies cases across the UK, which they say poses a major public health threat.

Scabies, a highly contagious condition caused by mites, leads to an itchy rash. It is spread through close skin contact and should be treated quickly to stop it spreading.

The NHS offers two main treatments: permethrin and malathion. A combination of supply chain problems, the war in Ukraine and a rise in the cost of raw materials, however, has resulted in months-long shortages of both.

This means that dermatologists and GPs are now struggling to treat people with scabies swiftly, with the north of England seeing double the normal amount of cases in November.

Dermatologists told the Guardian that the situation had become an “absolute nightmare”, with outbreaks in care homes, nursing homes and university accommodation.

Stroke patients face seven-hour waits for specialist care

Stroke patients are waiting an average of almost seven hours for a specialist bed, almost double the wait before the pandemic, new figures show.

NHS England guidance states that every patient with acute stroke should be given access to a stroke unit within four hours. This is critical because patients can only be given drug treatments or thrombectomy to remove clots within the first few hours of a stroke.

The figures for 2022-23 show the target being met in just four in 10 cases. Patients in England were waiting an average of six hours 49 minutes to be admitted to a specialist unit in 2022-23, compared to three hours 32 minutes in 2019-20.

The analysis of NHS data found that University Hospitals Sussex had the longest average waits last year, of more than 14 hours, with just 8% of patients seen within four hours.

Some trusts cited lengthening ambulance handover delays as a possible cause of longer waiting times. Many of the worst-affected units were in areas with significant handover delay problems.

Number of 65-week waiting breaches dropped by 20% at end of 2023

Trusts reduced the number of 65-week breaches by about 20%, and cut the waiting list for elective procedures between October and mid-December, according to NHS England.

Provisional data published on 2 January suggest that the number of people waiting 65-weeks or more fell from 114,000 on 8 October to 93,000 by 17 December. The last official “referral to treatment” figures, published in December, reported there were 107,000 65-week breaches in October.

While senior officials admit they will miss their key elective recovery target of eliminating 65-week waits by March, NHSE said the provisional figures illustrated the progress trusts had made before the latest wave of strikes.

The provisional data also suggested that the overall list fell from 7.5m in October to 7.2m in December, though the data does not include figures from all trusts.