News round-up (6 January 2023)

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5th January 2023 about a 5 minute read

The new year kicks off with a number of stories about the NHS being overwhelmed by the winter crisis. An increase in Covid admissions, combined with rising cases of flu, means that many patients are experiencing long waits on trolleys in corridors. Portable oxygen tanks are running out. The PM, meanwhile, has promised to cut waiting lists – though he also says that the NHS has enough money to cope with the current crisis. More cheeringly, the NHS is continuing to use technology in innovative ways, with Manchester adopting remote monitoring for patients awaiting heart surgery.

PM promises to cut NHS waiting lists

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has said he will cut waiting lists in England over the next two years.

The promise is one of five pledges made in his first speech of 2023. He said the government was “taking urgent action” and increasing NHS funding.

Sunak said this would help to ensure that people who are ready to be discharged from hospital could be moved into social care or looked after in the community.

A steep rise in Covid and flu admissions in recent weeks has put pressure on hospitals, which are also dealing with a backlog of treatment that built up during the pandemic. The problem is exacerbated by delays in discharging people who are ready to leave, but do not have a care plan in place.

NHS England ditches targets

NHS England has abandoned some of its priorities, including ones on long Covid and diversity and inclusion, according to an analysis by HSJ.

Its latest planning guidance for 2023-24 is 20 pages long, significantly shorter than previous years’ guidance. The analysis by HSJ looked at which objectives and targets from previous years were missing in the new guidance. One target from the 2022-23 guidance which has been omitted is to increase the number of patients referred to post-Covid services, who are then seen within six weeks of their referral.

Another omission relates to the measures on which trusts and integrated care systems are held accountable. These no longer include improving the service’s black, Asian and minority ethnic disparity ratio by “delivering the six high-impact actions to overhaul recruitment and promotion practices”.

Greater Manchester introduces remote monitoring for heart patients

A new home monitoring service has been introduced for patients awaiting heart surgery in Manchester.

The service, provided in collaboration between Greater Manchester and Eastern Cheshire Cardiac Clinical Network, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and FCMS, a community healthcare provider, uses monitoring equipment provided by Docobo. This enables patients to monitor their health on a daily basis, with a direct link to a team of clinicians who can prioritise patients showing signs of deterioration for earlier intervention.

Hospitals running out of oxygen

Hospitals are running out of oxygen because of the number of patients being treated in corridors and ambulances, doctors have said.

Ambulances and A&E departments rely on portable canisters of oxygen, which are intended to be used for short periods until a bed can be found. But the number of patients with acute respiratory problems stuck on corridors for hours or days means that supplies are running out.

The leading supplier of oxygen to the NHS has issued a notice warning that five types of cylinder are now being rationed and are only being exchanged on a “full for empty” basis. The Doctors Association UK (DAUK) said such shortages had become “a common occurrence”, adding to the risks for patients facing long delays.

Government says NHS needs to fix winter crisis

The NHS has been given enough money to avoid a winter crisis, the government has said, adding that health chiefs should take responsibility for fixing it.

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has told NHS chiefs to get thousands of patients out of hospital, saying they needed to be more “innovative” in tackling ambulance delays and A&E overcrowding by providing more care outside hospitals.

A spokesman for the prime minister said: “I think we are confident that we are providing the NHS with the funding it needs – and as we did throughout the pandemic – to deal with these issues.”

AI could help identify risk of cancer returning

A new study shows that artificial intelligence (AI) might be able to help identify the risk of cancer returning in non-small lung cancer (NSCL).

The study, carried out by the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in collaboration with the Institute of Cancer Research and Imperial College London (ICL), used imaging and clinical data from over 900 NSCLC patients in the UK and Netherlands after they had received radiotherapy. It aimed to develop and test machine-learning algorithms, in order to gauge how accurately the models could predict the recurrence of cancerous cells.

The imaging data from CT scans was analysed using radiomics, which extracted prognostic information that cannot be seen by the human eye. The results, published in npj Precision Oncology, revealed that the researchers’ model was better at identifying patients at a higher risk of recurrence within two years of completing radiotherapy than the traditional tumour, node, metastasis (TNM) staging system.