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Health Insight August 2001: In brief

 

The Commission for Health Improvement (CHI) says it will redesign its clinical governance review process, following criticism from several quarters. Nevertheless, CHI maintains that the pilot reviews it has conducted so far have painted an accurate picture of the trusts in question, and it is only fine tuning that is now required. A key factor in the changes now under consideration is that the CHI’s workload has increased much more quickly than was expected. CHI will be publishing a guide to its review process. Meanwhile, the Health Service Journal claims that its sources say the government is considering passing on some of the health responsibilities of the Audit Commission to the CHI. The institute’s website is www.chi.nhs.uk.

Source: Health Service Journal 12th, 26th July

A survey has found a consensus view amongst GPs and practice nurses that more responsibility for the management of minor ailments can be given to nurses. The survey was conducted for the National Association of Primary Care, the Practice Nurses Association, and the Proprietary Association of Great Britain. Most of the doctors and nurses questioned were in favour of nurses taking on more responsibility for such matters as women’s health, colds, and dyspepsia. However, problems with funding and lack of training were agreed to be holding back such a move in many practices.

Source: Press release (Proprietary Association of Great Britain)

Radical changes in the way NHS resources are allocated are being planned for Wales. Proposals for a new formula that would allocate money to different areas, according to the health needs of the population, have been presented to the National Assembly’s Health & Social Services Committee. The formula would be based on the Welsh health survey, which gives detailed information about the health of a substantial representative sample of the population of Wales. Professor Peter Townsend, chairman of the national steering group which prepared the report, said changes were needed to reverse growing inequalities in health.

Source: BMJ 14th July

Each year in the UK 4.5m people contract food poisoning. Of ten restaurants recently inspected by environmental health officers in Cambridge, Birmingham and London, half failed to make the grade. In one restaurant inspectors found mice in the kitchen; urine and water were pouring into the kitchen in another; rat droppings and mouldy vegetables were in a third. Now the Consumers’ Association (CA) is calling for changes in the law to ensure all catering premises are licensed. It also wants to see hygiene scores publicly available so that consumers can compare the standards of different food establishments. Helen Parker, editor of CA’s magazine Which? said, ‘Introducing a licensing system and basic hygiene training, as is already required in butcher’s shops, would help raise standards and help reduce the number of food poisoning cases in this country.’

Source: BBC Online

Health minister Hazel Blears has announced a £10m cash investment in new ambulance equipment. The money has been provided by the New Opportunities Fund, through proceeds from the National Lottery. ‘Ambulance services are about providing patient care, not just patient transport,’ said Hazel Blears. ‘They are an integral part of the NHS and should become even more so. Paramedics, ambulance technicians and others do excellent work in saving lives, providing treatment, and co-ordinating emergency health services.’

Source: Press release (DoH)

Consumers are being misled over expensive ‘functional’ food, which promises added nutrients or slimming properties. A study by the Consumers’ Association magazine Which? showed that many of the products were no more beneficial than their cheaper alternatives. The association is calling for European legislation to require manufacturers to back up health claims before their products go on sale. Scientists looked at a whole range of everyday foods, ranging from low-fat spreads and protein-packed meals, to high-cost energy drinks. Helen Parker, Editor of Which? said, ‘More research is needed before functional foods go on sale, and health claims should be controlled by law.’

Source: BBC Online

Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised to push through changes to the benefits system which could see disabled people undergo medicals to check whether they are fit for work. He said a proposed shake-up of incapacity benefit, with the introduction of medical tests every three years, was ‘entirely sensible and justified’. The government believes that up to seventy per cent of the 2.3m people claiming incapacity benefit could return to work. Mr Blair told MPs, ‘It cannot be right that we have a situation where people coming on to disability benefit receive up to £4,000 a year for ten, fifteen, or twenty years without anyone ever checking if they have recovered from injury and are able to work. If people are taking money from the state they must justify it.’ His comments in the House of Commons brought criticism from left-wing Labour MPs and disability campaigners, over what they called ‘MoT tests’ for the sick and vulnerable.

Source: BBC Online

New guidance has been published to help health service managers recognise and tackle racial harassment in the NHS. Key principles featured in the guidelines included national standards, harassment policies for individual organisations, and monitoring of progress. Health minister John Hutton said, on launching the new guidance, ‘We can’t get the best from the NHS if those who are from minority ethnic groups are subject to racist abuse and harassment. Racism has absolutely no place in the NHS. The guidance may be seen on www.doh.gov.uk/raceharassment/trhguide.htm.

Source: Press release (DoH)

Alan Milburn has announced that £110m of lottery money will be devoted to spending on medical equipment intended specifically to cut death rates from coronary heart disease and stroke. The aim is to cut inequalities by focusing on areas where rates of these conditions are particularly high. Defibrillators, ambulances, MRI scanners, and laboratory equipment will all be included. The government aims to reduce stroke and heart attack deaths by forty per cent by 2010, saving 200,000 deaths in total. Mr Milburn said, ‘Those areas with the worst record on heart disease haven’t always had the best services. We’ve got to put that right.’

Source: Press release (DoH)

The government says progress is being made in reducing the excessive working hours of junior doctors. Twelve per cent fewer doctors are working over fifty-six hours per week with inadequate rest than was the case six months ago. However, there is considerable variation between NHS trusts in the rate of progress. The DoH is therefore establishing regional action teams to make it possible for trusts that are meeting targets to help those who are failing to do so.

Source: Press release (DoH)

A survey by the NHS Alliance, which represents people working in primary care, found that most respondents believed the extra money given by the government to the NHS was not getting through to the ‘front line’. Many of those questioned said they were hamstrung by tight controls on expenditure that prevented the introduction of more innovative approaches to the provision of care. The government wants to see seventy-five per cent of NHS finances placed in the hands of frontline staff by 2004. The NHS Alliance says that this is too far into the future, as primary care trusts need to find more flexible ways of working now.

Source: BBC Online

A private-sector organisation will help run the NHS staff pension scheme. The NHS Pensions Agency will continue to administrate the scheme, but a commercial concern, Envision, will take over finance, IT facilities, management, medical advisory services, and estate management. The move is intended to help the Agency to modernise. The NHS has the biggest pension scheme in the UK.

Source: Press release (DoH)

In a move intended to reduce waiting times for patients with gastrointestinal cancer, £2.5m is to be devoted by the NHS to training more staff in endoscopic techniques. The three-year project, announced by National Cancer Director Professor Mike Richards, will be based on a pilot model currently used by the Raven Department of Education at the Royal College of Surgeons.

Source: Press release (DoH)

The NHS Direct telephone helpline is proving popular with people on holiday. Four NHS sites covering the most popular holiday destinations (including Blackpool, Devon and Cornwall) report that the number of callers has increased since the start of the holiday season. Forty-three thousand callers contacted the four centres in the last two weeks of July. Researchers from Sheffield University recently concluded that the service was safe and well used.

Source: Press release (DoH)

The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFA), which is responsible for regulation of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in the UK, has approved in principle the screening of embryos for an abnormal number of chromosomes. This is the fist time it has approved a technique that detects a range of abnormalities, rather than one particular genetic disease. Use of the technique could improve the success rate of IVF procedures. A number of genetics specialists have criticised the move, as well as the group Human Genetics Alert, which said the HFA had crossed ‘a crucial ethical line’ that would lead to the introduction of screening for Down’s syndrome and other abnormalities ‘by stealth’.

Source: BMJ 21st July

Bathroom manufacturer Twyford says it is designing a futuristic toilet that will be able to monitor human waste and spot health problems. With a voice-activated seat, automatic flush and the ability to detect health problems, the Versatile Interactive Pan (VIP) will be able to contact a GP via the internet. Although the model is not yet in production, Twyford predicts it could be on the market within the next five years. Urine and stool samples would be examined by the toilet, not only for health problems but for dietary content. Twyford’s spokesman Terry Wooliscroft said, ‘We also want to link to the local supermarket. If, for example, a person is short on roughage one day, an order of beans or pulses will be sent from the VIP to the supermarket and delivered that same day.’ Mr Wooliscroft said it would not be long before the VIP would be ready for production, ‘The technology is not too far away and we are working towards that.’

Source: BBC Online


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