News round-up (9 June 2023)

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8th June 2023 about a 5 minute read

Chronic staff shortages in radiology and oncology mean that cancer patients are now waiting too long for diagnostic tests and treatment, the Royal College of Radiologists has said. There is also concern among government about the health problems being caused as a result of so many children and young people taking up vaping. More positively, studies have shown that physical exercise can reduce the likelihood of cancer spreading or returning.

The NHS is struggling to provide safe cancer care

Doctors have warned that the NHS is struggling to provide safe and effective care for all cancer patients.

According to the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR), all four UK nations are facing “chronic staff shortages”, with patients waiting too long for vital tests and treatments. There is now a 15% shortfall of clinical oncologists – who deliver chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Without action, the RCR says this gap will grow to 25% – or a shortage of 368 full-time consultants – by 2027.

Half of all cancer units now report frequent delays for both radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

New figures show that 22,533 patients in England were waiting more than two months for cancer treatment at the end of April, up from 19,023 at the end of March.

GPs to start offering weight-loss jab

GPs in England may start offering weight-loss jabs to some patients to reduce the numbers developing illneses caused by obesity.

The weight loss drug Wegovy has been approved by NICE for NHS use, after research showed it could help users lose more than 10% of their body weight. The drug works by making people feel full and reducing their appetite.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has announced a £40 million pilot scheme to increase access to specialist weight management services. The scheme will assess how GPs could safely prescribe weight loss drugs, combined with support provided by the NHS either digitally or in the community. It forms part of the government’s wider ambition to reduce pressure on hospitals and give patients access to the care they need where it is most convenient for them.

First month of lockdown reduced lives of heart victims by a year and a half

The first month of lockdown cut a year and a half off the lives of heart attack victims in the UK, according to a research study.

The international research, published in the European Heart Journal, tracked the care of patients who suffered major heart attacks in the four weeks following lockdown, with a similar group the year before. After the then prime minister Boris Johnson told people to stay at home to protect the NHS, the number of heart attack patients admitted to hospital dropped sharply.

The study estimates the impact of lack of care on life expectancy for patients who suffered major heart attacks. It suggests that only 44% of such patients were hospitalised in the UK in the four weeks from March 23 2020, compared with around 77 per cent in the same month the previous year.

Modelling the long-term impact, the researchers found it is likely to have reduced the life expectancy of such patients by an average of 18 months.

Vaping is causing breathing difficulties in children, paediatrician warns

Vaping is giving children breathing difficulties and even lung disease, a paediatrician has warned.

Dr Mike McKean, a paediatric respiratory consultant and vice president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said that there had been a “disturbing” rise in the number of children and young people using vapes.

Speaking to the BBC, he said: “We are now seeing children who are presenting to hospitals and to clinics who have got breathing problems related to vaping we believe. And it’s a very difficult thing to study, firstly, because it’s not been going on for too long and it’s fair to say we’re not seeing large numbers of children with severe lung disease, but it’s certainly been reported now where people have developed lung disease related to vaping.”

The government is carrying out a review looking at the ways e-cigarettes are marketed to appeal to young users, as part of a plan to prevent children from using vapes.

Walking and yoga can cut risk of cancer returning, research finds

Walking for 30 minutes a day and practising yoga can help reduce fatigue in cancer patients and cut the risk of the disease spreading or returning, three new studies have found.

The studies, which were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the world’s largest cancer conference, add support to evidence suggesting that physical exercise can benefit patients.

One of the studies, a randomised control trial, found that people who took up yoga had “significantly lower levels of pro-inflammatory markers” than patients in the other group. A second study found that yoga was better at helping relieve fatigue and maintain quality of life than health education classes, while the third study found that cancer patients who are active can reduce their risk of dying by almost a fifth.

Government accused of delaying funding for digital skills training

The Faculty of Clinical Informatics (FCI), which represents clinical informaticians, has warned that the government’s plans to improve digital skills in the NHS are at risk because of a delay in signing them off.

NHS England has allocated £1m over this financial year and next for the FCI to deliver training from a clinical perspective to current and future digital specialists within the NHS. The programme is intended to make sure NHS employees have both the understanding and capability to use the most appropriate technology to collect, record and access data.

In an open letter to Steve Barclay, the health and social care secretary, the FCI has raised concerns that it may be “several months” before the funding is delivered, because it is still waiting for ministerial signoff.

The letter, signed by almost 800 clinicians, warns that if the funding is delayed beyond the end of June, it could “jeopardise further training, and even the continuation of the FCI itself”.