News round-up (8 December 2023)

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7th December 2023 about a 6 minute read

There may be justice at last for the victims of the infected blood scandal, which dates back to the 1980s, as MPs voted this week to introduce a compensation scheme now rather than wait until the end of the ongoing inquiry. Once again, the NHS is facing challenges as we approach winter. This year, there has been a rise in the prevalence of seasonal viruses – including a 179% increase since this time last year in the number of people in hospital with norovirus. More positively, the use of technology to alleviate some of the health service’s stresses continues, with four in five GP practices now offering patients electronic access to their records through the NHS app – while Labour promises to introduce a policy of using AI to analyse scans, speeding up diagnosis, if it comes to power.

MPs back compensation for victims of infected blood scandal

MPs have voted for a proposal to speed up compensation for victims of the NHS infected blood scandal.

The motion was passed by 246 votes to 242 after 22 Conservatives defied the government to vote in favour. It means that government ministers will now have to set up a body to run the scheme within three months of a new bill becoming law.

The chairman of the Haemophilia Society, Clive Smith, said it was an “incredibly emotional” moment for campaigners. “Parliament last night drew a line in the sand and said: no more, no longer, will you need to fight, no longer will you need to wait, justice will finally be delivered to those who’ve waited for so long,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The government has said there is a moral case for compensating victims of the scandal, and has made the first interim payments of £100,000 to 4,000 surviving victims and bereaved partners. It said, however, that it wanted to wait for the infected blood inquiry to conclude before setting up a full scheme.

NHS spent more than £1.3bn on agency nurses in 2022

The NHS spent more than £1.3 billion on agency nurses last year, according to new figures.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that trusts had been forced to “squander billions on agency staff” as figures showed that annual spending rose from £815m in just two years.

The rise in spending is in part due to strikes by nurses. The RCN, however, accused ministers of a “false economy”, saying “unfair” pay levels to staff were fuelling the increase in money spent on agency workers.

The RCN said the £3.2 billion spent on agency nurses and other health workers over three years could have paid the salaries of almost 31,000 full-time nurses or trained more than 86,000 new ones.

AI will analyse every hospital scan, Labour promises

Every major hospital will analyse scans using artificial intelligence (AI) as part of a Labour Party plan to double NHS diagnostic capacity and cut heart deaths by one quarter.

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, has spent a week studying the Australian health care system as part of a plan to create health policies which learn from the best international practice.

Streeting said the NHS needed to urgently embrace technology in order to improve patient care and boost productivity. He added that it was necessary to be “brutally honest” about the poor state of the health service now in order to secure its future.

League tables show that Australia’s heart and stroke services are decades ahead of those in the UK, with death rates for both conditions approximately half of those in Britain for those admitted to hospital. This down to the use of diagnostics that can assess conditions quickly in cases where time is critical to limit the oxygen loss that causes brain damage.

Number in hospital with norovirus 179% higher than last year

The number of people with norovirus in hospitals in England 179% higher than the average at this time of year, according to new NHS data.

Admissions caused by norovirus, which is characterised by vomiting and diarrhoea, have increased dramatically, and cases of other seasonal viruses are also rising, the figures show.

Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England’s medical director, said: “We all know somebody who has had some kind of nasty winter virus in the last few weeks. Today’s data shows this is starting to trickle through to hospital admissions, with a much higher volume of norovirus cases compared to last year, and the continued impact of infections like flu and RSV in children on hospital capacity – all likely to be exacerbated by this week’s cold weather.”

On average, 351 adult hospital beds in England were occupied every day last week by patients with norovirus-like symptoms – nearly three times the average of 126 for the equivalent week in 2022.

US researchers show that a bacterium found in yoghurt can help alleviate depression

A bacterium found in fermented foods and yoghurt can help the body manage stress and may help prevent depression and anxiety, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Virginia have isolated the Lactobacillus  bacterium, separating it out from all the other microorganisms that naturally live in and on our bodies. They found that the bacteria help maintain the levels of an immune mediator called interferon gamma that regulates the body’s response to stress and helps stave off depression.

The hope is that the discovery may help scientists better understand the role of individual microbes, facilitating the development of new treatments and cures for a wide variety of mental and physical illnesses.

More people accessing GP records through NHS app

More than four in five GP practices in England are enabling their patients to access their health records online through the NHS App, NHS England has said.

The NHS delivery plan for recovering access to primary care set out an ambitious plan for nine in 10 GP practices to offer patients access to their health records via the NHS App by March 2024. The hope was that, by making it easy for patients to access their healthcare, 10m GP appointments a year could be freed up by next winter. It would also give people more choice over how they access care.

The new figures show that 81.1% of GP practices offer online access. Access to all future records is now a legal right for patients, and general practices are required to give all patients aged over 16 access to their new health record entries.