Secretary Alan Milburn has promised that the government will shortly
publish its health inequalities targets for England. He said they
would concentrate on reducing infant mortality and the number of premature
adult deaths. A target for 2010 will be to reduce by at least 10 per cent
the gap in infant mortality rates between manual groups and the population
as a whole. There will also be a target to reduce, by the same amount,
the gap between the fifth of health authorities with the lowest life
expectancy and the population as a whole.
Press release (DoH)
- Over 80,000 children
in 510 schools across England are now receiving a free piece of fruit
each school day, in the biggest government programme to improve child
health and nutrition since the introduction of free school milk in
1946. The National School Fruit Scheme, the first government-funded
scheme of its kind in the world, will give all four to six-year-olds
in infant and nursery schools a free piece of fruit each day by 2004.
The scheme follows research which shows that eating at least five
portions of fruit and vegetables a day could help to prevent diseases
such as heart disease, cancer, and asthma. It is considered to be
the second most effective strategy in preventing cancer after reducing
Press release (DoH)
- More people die
in the home every week than in road accidents, according to a government
report. In the UK, 76 people are killed in domestic accidents each
week - mainly from fires, carbon monoxide poisonings, burns, drowning,
accidental collisions, and DIY accidents. Road accidents kill 66 people
a week. Sarah Colles, home safety advisor for the Royal Society for
the Prevention of Accidents, said, 'It is worrying to see that so
many people are still being needlessly injured in the home each year.'
She said vulnerable groups such as young people and children needed
to be targeted to reduce the number of accidents in the future: 'Home
safety is everyone's responsibility and we should work together in
a bid to raise home safety awareness.'
- The public is
being asked for its views on the implications of the way genes may
determine certain human traits, such as aggression, antisocial behaviour,
alcoholism, homosexuality and intelligence. In a consultation document,
the Nuffield Council on Bioethics says complex issues are being raised
by the drive to uncover links between genetic makeup and human behaviour.
Depending on how the discussions with the public develop, the working
party responsible for the consultation may produce guidelines for
researchers in the field, and launch a campaign to help explain the
issues to the public. Information about the working party and some
of the main issues is available on www.nuffieldfoundation.org/bioethics.
BMJ 24 March
- A major conference
on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been held in
London - the first main European conference on ADHD since the National
Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued its guidelines on
the controversial drug treatment Ritalin last October. NICE ruled
that the drug could be prescribed on the NHS to children who were
diagnosed as having serious hyperactivity problems. About 5 per cent of school
children in England and Wales are thought to be suffering from ADHD.
- The supermarket
Sainsbury's has announced that it has developed a process, which will
kill bacteria on raw chicken, making it safer to eat. Sainsbury's
claim the new unique system, which washes the chicken in hot water
for a specific length of time, will reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter
by 95 per cent , without destroying the taste of the meat. Customer trials
will now be carried out. In 1999 more than 20,000 cases of Salmonella
poisoning were reported. A spokesman for the Food Standards Agency
said it welcomed any moves to try to improve the safety of food.
- April is National
Bowel Cancer Month in the UK. Bowel cancer is the third most common
form of cancer in the UK - 17,000 people died from it in 1998. The
Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) commissioned a survey about people's
toilet habits to coincide with the launch of the initiative. The poll
found that people were as uncomfortable about discussing bowel problems
with their family doctor as they were about talking about sexual problems.
Nine out of 10 cases of bowel cancer can be treated effectively if
the disease is caught early enough, but many people leave it too late
to seek treatment.
- The first baby
to be conceived from an egg that was frozen and then thawed has been
born in the UK. The child, which has been described as 'healthy' was
created from an egg donated by one woman, frozen and stored before
being fertilised, and placed in a second woman's womb. The procedure
was carried out at the Assisted Reproduction & Gynaecology Centre,
one of seven clinics in the UK to be licensed to freeze eggs by the
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). A spokesman for
HFEA said it had decided in January 2000 that enough babies had been
successfully born using the technique to license it in the UK, though
he warned it still had quite a low success rate.
- During 2000,
113 nurses, midwives or health visitors were struck off the professional
register, compared with 74 the previous year. Data from the UK Central
Council for Nursing Midwifery & Health Visiting (UKCC) also show a
rise in complaints against nurses, full misconduct hearings, and cautions
following findings of wrongdoing. Most of the complaints were lodged
by employers or managers. A UKCC spokesman said that compared with
the number of nurses on the register (634,000) the number of complaints
was still very small: 'We do not believe the rise in complaints reflects
a fall in standards within the profession. It is more likely to reflect
a change in society, where people are less prepared to accept bad
practice when it occurs, which is a good thing.'
- Mumps may be
making a comeback, the Public Health Laboratory Service has warned.
There were 654 confirmed cases in England and Wales last year, up
from 358 in 1999 and 121 in 1998. A major factor could be the decline
in vaccination rates, as a result of public concern over the safety
of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. Specialists have warned
that mumps can have serious complications, and have once again urged
parents to get their children vaccinated.
- The DoH is to
launch a new study into the causes of autism, at a time when there
have been concerns that the condition may be becoming more common.
The research will be conducted in collaboration with the Medical Research
Council. It will be overseen by psychiatrist Professor Eve Johnstone
of the University of Edinburgh. It is intended to take a much broader
look at possible causes than has been done in previous studies. The
first step will be to hold a series of meetings over the next few
months involving doctors, scientists, the National Autistic Society
and other interested parties.
- A select committee
of the House of Lords has accused the Medicines Control Agency of
not dealing with cannabis-based medicines in the same impartial manner
that it deals with other medicines. The committee is particularly
concerned that MCA's insistence on the need for further toxicological
data could prevent or delay the approval of new cannabis-based treatments
for multiple sclerosis.
BMJ 24 March
- An all-party
group has been set up in the House of Commons to address the issue
of men's health. Its first action will be to back a campaign by the
Men's Health Forum to do more to tackle the problem of suicide in
young men - in whom the suicide rate has risen by 55 per cent in the last
20 years. Men now live on average five years less than women and the
reluctance of men to seek medical treatment at an early stage is seen
as a major factor. Dr Ian Banks, President of the Men's Health Forum,
described men's health as, 'a major inequality issue, particularly
for those men in social classes four and five and some ethnic minorities'.
He said he wanted to see the all-party group get the issue on to the
- A GP practice
in Derbyshire and another in Oxford became the first pilots of a scheme
to allow NHS patients to have direct on-line secure access to their
own medical records. Patients at the two surgeries are now able to
sit in a private place and view their records on a computer. In Oxford
they will be able to see all their records over the last four years,
in Derbyshire they will see only a summary but any new additions will
be available in full. It is planned to extend the scheme to the entire
NHS by 2004.
Press release (DoH)
- The BMA's GP
committee has called for a radical rethink on prescribing, which it
says is 'riddled with anomalies'. Amongst the issues that concern
the committee are the fact that patients with some chronic conditions
are eligible for free prescriptions and others are not. They would
also like to see pharmacists allowed to prescribe some medicines.
If, for example, they could prescribe children's paracetamol it would
save money for poor families, as well as saving GPs' time. Another
concern is that, many patients are now becoming more knowledgeable
about drugs, thanks to surfing the internet, and they are now demanding
that their doctors prescribe particular brands, in preference to generic
products. If the advertising of prescription drugs were ever allowed
on television, as is already the case in the US, then this pressure
would increase. The committee is seeking the views of GPs across the
country on such problems.
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