News round-up (5 May 2023)

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4th May 2023 about a 5 minute read

Some good news this week, as a second drug has been found to be effective in slowing the progress of Alzheimer’s. A new AI tool has also proved successful in identifying cancerous tumours from CT scans. Workforce shortages continue to be a problem in the NHS, however, with surgeons reduced to spending only one day a fortnight performing operations, because of a lack of theatre staff.

New Alzheimer’s drug slows disease by a third

A new drug for Alzheimer’s has been shown to slow the progress of the disease by about a third.

The Eli Lilly drug, donanemab, attacks beta amyloid, a plaque that builds up in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. A similar drug, lecanemab, which works in the same way, was shown to be effective last year.

The trial of donanembab enlisted 1,734 people in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s. They took a monthly infusion of the drug until the amyloid plaques disappeared. The pace of the disease was slowed by about 29% overall, and by 35% in a set of patients researchers thought more likely to respond. A third of participants, however, experienced some swelling in the brain, and at least two, possibly three, died as a consequence.

Launch of weight loss drug Wegovy delayed as NHS can’t meet demand

A plan to launch the weight loss drug Wegovy in the UK has been delayed because supplies could not keep up with demand.

Wegovy, which is administered by weekly injections, was recently approved by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) as an effective weight loss treatment for people with obesity. It is expected to be suitable for tens of thousands of people.

The drug was due to become available this week, but pharmacists and weight loss clinics have now been warned of an indefinite delay before they can offer it.

New AI tool can accurately identify cancer

A new artificial intelligence (AI) model, designed by experts at the Royal Marsden NHS foundation trust, the Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Imperial College London, has been found to identify cancer accurately.

The team used CT scans of about 500 patients with large lung nodules to develop an AI algorithm that can identify whether an abnormal growth on the scan is cancerous. The researchers say the tool could speed up diagnosis of the disease and fast-track patients to treatment.

The study used a measure called area under the curve (AUC) to see how effective the model was at predicting cancer. An AUC of 1 indicates a perfect model, while 0.5 would be expected if the model was randomly guessing. The results showed the AI model could identify each nodule’s risk of cancer with an AUC of 0.87.

Surgeons carrying out operations on one day a fortnight

Surgeons are carrying out scheduled operations just one day a fortnight, according to Professor Neil Mortensen, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

He said that the reason productivity among surgeons is so low is to do with staff shortages and a lack of operating theatre space.

Professor Mortensen told the Telegraph that, although he was worried about the harm inflicted by the current strikes, he was even more concerned about the widespread workforce shortages, which had led to a lack of capacity to clear backlogs.

A lack of operating theatres and shortages of support staff, including anaesthetists and scrub nurses, had left too many surgeons with nothing to do or dealing with an ever-increasing administrative burden, he told the paper.

Lung cancer screening pilot shows promising results

A pilot in Kent and Medway that used software to screen for lung cancer has shown promising early results.

As part of the NHS Targeted Lung Health Checks (TLHC) programme, Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance decided to invite people aged 55 to 75 with a history of smoking for a free lung check.   

Because there are usually no signs or symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer, it is important to target screening at people likely to be at risk of developing the disease so they can be treated early.

In order to identify those most at risk of developing lung cancer, the Alliance used relevant patient data from GP practices, and uploaded it to InfoFlex, a software solution that delivers a single view of patient information. The software was then able to identify those most at risk to invite them for the check. The Cancer Alliance said that after only operating for a few weeks, the service had picked up its first patient with stage 1 lung cancer, who will now be able to receive treatment early, increasing the prospect of a good outcome. 

Patient safety commissioner criticises DHSC ‘ambiguity and delay’

The national Patient Safety Commissioner, Henrietta Hughes, has hit out at the government for failing to confirm her budget a month into the financial year, warning that she is “incredibly limited” in what she can achieve.

In a letter sent to the Commons health and social care committee chair Steve Brine, Hughes states: “Despite it now being the end of April the Department has still not provided me with a budget for this financial year.”

The letter goes on: “This ambiguity and delay is impacting on my ability to arrange patient engagement events as these require a budget”.

Hughes says she would like to support people who had contacted her with concerns about medicines and medical devices. With a team of only four, however, and no timetable for this to change, Hughes says she is “incredibly limited” in what her office can achieve.