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Health Insight March 2002: Around the NHS


A website has been designed which allows medical staff to find out where the nearest spare bed in an intensive care unit (ICU) is located, so that critically ill patients can be transferred quickly. Often critically ill patients are transferred large distances at great risk to their health. Visitors to the site (www.icubeds.info) need to use a password to update the information. Each hospital is asked to submit the bed state of their ICU to the website, which is constantly updated. Other hospital units can then view a comprehensive, up-to-date list of nearby bed space. Dr John Heyworth, president of the British Association for Accident and Emergency Medicine, said, ‘The system is fundamentally flawed in that throughout the country it is a frequent occurrence for ICU beds to be full. However, if you accept that is the situation then anything that minimises the risk of difficulty associated with patient transfers is to be welcomed.’

The cost to the NHS of Britain’s drinking habits is as high as £3bn a year, according to a report published by Alcohol Concern. Casualty departments are jammed with drunks and victims of their violence and wards are filled with those suffering from the long-term corrosive effects of drinking, such as liver damage, cancer and heart conditions. Alcohol Concern published the report for a conference in the hopes of alerting doctors and nurses in primary care to the scale of the problem. The Department of Health said they took alcohol misuse ‘very seriously’ and are funding 500 treatment centres for young people in England and will run courses for doctors and nurses in recognising alcohol problems.

In what is seen as a government U-turn, Health Secretary Alan Milburn has agreed a major concession with Unison, the UK’s largest trade union, allowing ancillary health staff in private finance hospitals to be NHS employers. Private firms are not happy, as they will no longer have the flexibility to dismiss staff and take on new recruits on poorer working conditions. The public services union had strongly resisted Private Finance Initiative hospital schemes because it feared they would result in worse pay, pensions and holidays.

Source: The Times 16th March, Guardian 1st March, BBC Online

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