News round-up 9 December

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8th December 2022 about a 5 minute read

It’s mostly grim news this week as we enter the winter months: waiting lists for elective treatment are the highest since records began, and NHS England has taken £1bn out of its funding for priority areas to pay for deficits elsewhere. The deaths of nine children from Strep A infection are being blamed on weakened immunity after pandemic restrictions. The government is hoping to tackle some of the backlog by making better use of the private health care sector, and has set up a taskforce to work out how to do this.

NHS waiting list reaches record high

The number of people in England waiting to start routine hospital treatment has risen to a new high.

An estimated 7.2 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of October, up from 7.1 million in September. It is the highest number since records began in August 2007.

NHS figures also showed that 410,983 people in England had been waiting more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment at the end of October – the equivalent of one in 18 people on the entire waiting list.

NHSE cuts £1bn from cancer, maternity and primary care

NHS England is taking £1bn from a fund earmarked for improvement in cancer, maternity care and other priority services to pay for deficits elsewhere, according to HSJ.

The service development fund is allocated at the beginning of the year for priority service areas. As well as maternity and cancer care, these include primary care, community health, mental health, learning disabilities and health inequalities.

NHS England directors said that it was experiencing cost pressures from inflation, a pay deal unfunded by government and higher than expect costs related to Covid. It apparently intends to take £1bn from the service development fund again in 2023-24.

Health in England declined in 2020

In 2020, health in England declined to a score of 100.1 from 100.5 in 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) health index.

The health index is broken down into three domains describing describe health in its broadest terms: Healthy People, Healthy Lives and Healthy Places. Subdomains such as mental health and working conditions are made up of a set of measures that include obesity, alcohol misuse and air pollution.

Each aspect is given a score indexed around 100, using health in 2015 as a reference point. The data show how health has improved or declined over time, and how it varies by area.

In 2020, the Healthy People score declined considerably in 2020 compared with 2019, driven by considerably worse personal well-being levels, higher mortality and worse mental health. The Healthy Lives score also declined, driven partly by a decrease in physical activity. The Healthy Places score improved, however, as a result of reductions in crime and improvements in living conditions. Many of these changes, such as a reduction in air pollution, were linked to pandemic restrictions.

New taskforce to decide how to make better use of private sector

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has set up a new taskforce that will focus on how the NHS can make better use of the private health care sector to cut the backlog.

DHSC said the taskforce, chaired by junior health minister Will Quince, was due to hold its first meeting yesterday (Thursday). Other members of include NHS England’s elective national director Sir Jim Mackey, elective clinical national director professor Tim Briggs, and national clinical adviser Roberto Tamsanguan, according to HSJ.

Its brief is to develop recommendations to give to ministers early in 2023 about how to improve communication and collaboration between the NHS and independent sector, “clearly setting out what theatres, beds and other settings (such as outpatients) are available in the independent sector,” the DHSC said.

Vitamin D may reduce dementia risk by up to a third.

Taking vitamin D could reduce the risk of dementia by up to a third, a new study has found.

Researchers at Tufts University in the US looked at levels of vitamin D in 290 adults as part of a long-term study of Alzheimer’s that began in 1997. They looked at four regions of the brain, two of which were linked to Alzheimer’s. They found that vitamin D was present in all four regions and that people with higher levels of the vitamin had better cognitive function.

However, when the brains were dissected after death there was no association between vitamin D levels and any of the physiological markers associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers said that additional research was needed to clarify the mechanisms underlying the “potentially protective” relationship.

Strep A infections kill more children than Covid in first year of pandemic

Strep A bacterial infections have now killed more children than Covid did during the first year of the pandemic.

Nine children in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are known to have died of iGas, a severe form of Strep A infection caused when the bacterium gets into the bloodstream. In the whole of 2020, eight children died following a Covid infection in those countries.

Some experts think that the pandemic restrictions weakened children’s immunity by preventing them from encountering germs that would prime their immune systems. This made them more susceptible to infection when restrictions were removed. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has issued a memo to GPs and hospitals warning that current iGas infections were “unusually high” and calling for a “low threshold” when prescribing antibiotics.