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Health Insight March 2002: In brief


A pill to treat baldness, already available in 40 countries, is now available in the UK on private prescription. Although research found that baldness caused at least as much suffering in men as a serious skin condition such as psoriasis, the government decided Propecia, manufactured by Merck, Sharp and Dohme, would not be funded by the NHS. In clinical trials five out of six men (84%) did not lose any more hair whilst taking the drug – and some men actually reported improved scalp hair growth.

Source: BBC Online

A new campaign has been launched designed to raise awareness of tuberculosis and its symptoms. The ‘TB – Be Aware’ campaign, which highlights the symptoms and incidence of TB across the UK, will be targeted at healthcare professionals and high-risk communities. Numbers of cases have risen over the last decade as part of a worldwide resurgence of TB; across the UK 7,000 cases were reported in the year 2000. The campaign, which started on 25th March, will run for five weeks and is scheduled to coincide with World TB Day. The UK government has stated its commitment to the global TB crisis as recognised by the World Health Organization.

Source: Press release (DoH)

A children’s hospital has launched an investigation after admitting that a nurse gave a five-week-old baby a potentially lethal dose of potassium following a complex operation on his heart. Thomas Rowe, who is now in a paediatric ward at the Diana, Princess of Wales children’s hospital in Birmingham, was born with Down’s syndrome and two holes in his heart. Following surgery to repair his damaged heart valves Thomas’ heart stopped after a nurse gave him a day’s dose of the drug in one hour. A cardiac team then reopened the baby’s chest to restart his heart.

Source: Guardian 6th March


Prescription charges were increased from £6.10 to £6.20 on 1st April. Health minister, Hazel Blears, said, ‘For the fourth consecutive year we have held the increase to 10p. This modest increase will help maintain the contribution that charges make towards the cost of the NHS. The extensive exemption and remission arrangements we have in place mean that 85% of prescription items are dispensed free of charge.’ It is expected that prescription charges will raise some £434m for the NHS in 2002–2003.

Source: Press release (DoH)

Two studies of homeopathy, a form of complementary medicine available on the NHS, conclude that it has very little proven effect on patients. There are five homeopathic hospitals in Britain – the two largest, in Glasgow and London, have in-patient units. Many GPs either practise homeopathy themselves or refer patients to a homeopath on request; around 470,000 people take homeopathic remedies every year. The NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, based at York University, has produced a comprehensive review of the clinical trials that have been carried out to assess what benefit patients receive from homeopathy. It concludes, ‘There is currently insufficient evidence of effectiveness to recommend homeopathy as a treatment for any condition, or warrant significant changes in current provision of homeopathy. The British Medical Journal carried a report on a study to assess the impact of homeopathic treatment on people with asthma. Scientists found that patients given homeopathic remedies did no better than those on dummy medicines. A special report on medicine and health can be seen at the Guardian website www.guardian.co.uk/medicine.

Source: Guardian 1st March

A few eyebrows were raised last month when the British Medical Association recommended that schoolchildren as young as five should be lectured about the dangers of unsafe sex. The debate was sparked by the publication of two studies in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, which suggested that Britain was experiencing epidemic levels of STDs, fuelled by lax sexual attitudes. However, according to the UK’s Public Health Laboratory Service, gonorrhoea was four times as common in Britain in the late 1960s and early 1970s, syphilis is relatively rare, and genital herpes infection rates have remained flat in recent years. Even the apparent increase in chlamydia is thought to be due to better detection.

Source: New Scientist 9th March

Levels of obesity related diseases are growing steadily in the UK – they are estimated to cost £2bn and kill up to 30,000 people a year. Obese patients could now be helped by experiments which suggest the hormone Ghrelin can affect appetite in humans. Scientists at Imperial College, London, and the city’s Hammersmith Hospital, claim that the hormone appears to increase food consumption. Dr Alison Wren, from Imperial College, said, ‘We hope that by targeting Ghrelin with specific drugs, it may be possible to therapeutically control hunger. Professor Steve Bloom, from Hammersmith Hospital, said, ‘The advantages of this kind of therapy may extend beyond the treatment of obese patients and include conditions that induce a dangerous loss of appetite, such as cancer. In cases such as this, Ghrelin supplements could potentially help to normalise eating patterns.’

Source: BBC Online

Important steps have been announced to improve healthcare for people with diabetes. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued two clinical guidelines for the management of type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes. They cover the screening for and management of retinopathy (eye problems) and the prevention and management of renal (kidney) disease. Three remaining guidelines will be issued shortly. Following publication of the new national standards for diabetes care in December, work is now progressing on the Diabetes National Service Framework (NSF) delivery strategy, which is to be published later this year. The Diabetes NSF standards apply to England only. They are available on the Department of Health website www.doh.gov.uk/nsf/diabetes.

Source: Press release (DoH)

Despite the government’s crack-down on waiting lists people are dying while waiting for radiotherapy treatment, according to a survey carried out by the Royal College of Radiologists. Hospitals are meeting the government target of getting the patients from the GP to the consultant, but then they hit a bottleneck in the system because of a shortage of radiotherapy machines and the staff to operate them. Nick James of the Institute for Cancer Studies at the University of Birmingham, who carried out the study involving more than 2,500 patients, said, ‘Undoubtedly it is costing people their lives.’ The survey of 50 patients from every cancer centre in the country found that overall people were waiting an average of six weeks for the radiotherapy treatment to begin. The government says treatment should begin within four weeks.

Source: Guardian 4th March

The Retained Organs Commission has published a consultation document seeking views on the proper management and custodianship of human organs and tissue removed during postmortem examinations. The consultation follows a year of overseeing the practical management of measures being taken by the NHS and others, such as universities and coroners, to identify and return for respectful disposal, organs and tissue retained following postmortems.

Source: Press release (DoH)

A month before Chancellor Gordon Brown’s first budget of the new parliament, research has been published which shows that cigarettes are more affordable now in the UK than they were in the 1960s, despite a decade of steep price rises. A pricing survey carried out by the World Health Organization compared the change in the price of cigarettes over the past decade with the relative change in the wealth of smokers in dozens of different countries. The report said that on average, a smoker in the UK must work for 40 minutes to pay for a pack of 20 cigarettes. Anti-smoking pressure groups believe there is scope for more tax to be levied.

Source: BBC Online

The British Medical Association say motorists should be tested for drug use in the same way that they are currently tested for alcohol, as drugs – both illegal and legal – can affect the ability to drive safely. The government has responded by promising tougher powers for police to deal with people who drive under the influence of drugs. A Department of Transport spokeswoman said policemen were to be educated on drug recognition techniques, which would give them ‘greater confidence to arrest a suspect’. Dr Vivienne Nathanson, BMA head of science and ethics, said, ‘Whatever action the government takes on drug driving it is essential that it is accompanied by a public awareness campaign.’

Source: BBC Online

A 102-year-old woman, Rose Cottle, has succeeded in stopping the demolition of the care village where she hoped to live out her days. She caused quite a stir when, as the figurehead for a campaign called STOP (Save The Old People), she visited 10 Downing Street with a petition bearing 5,000 signatures. The owners of Borehamwood Care Village had hoped to sell the nursing home for development into luxury homes; they will now seek a buyer to preserve the community as a care home. So, ‘The battle is won, though not yet the war’, as Miss Cottle said. She became a star overnight, receiving flowers and fan letters, and triggering off a week-long debate about the care of old people on a morning TV programme.

Source: The Times 23rd March

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