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Health Insight October 2002: In brief

  The Tetley tea company has been rapped for claiming that tea is good for the heart and implying it may help you live longer. Following a complaint by The Food Commission, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruled there was insufficient scientific evidence to back up the claims made in their adverts. Tetley, which carries the British Heart Foundation logo on some of its products, argued its claims were based on a substantial body of research by leading medical experts – submitting details of thirty-one studies in its support. While accepting that antioxidants found in tea might help prevent coronary heart disease, the ASA ordered Tetley to change its claims with help from the Committee on Advertising Practice Copy.
Source: BBC Online

Clear guidance on home versus hospital haemodialysis for people with end stage renal failure, from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) has been welcomed by Health Minister, Lord Philip Hunt. NICE recommends that all existing patients and new patients be assessed for home haemodialysis and, if suitable, be offered the choice between having it at home, or in a hospital/satellite unit. An estimated 27,500 patients in England and Wales are on some form of renal replacement therapy (transplantation and dialysis). In general, patients receiving the treatment at home report a better quality of life, although some feel isolated from the support of hospital staff, and find the responsibility of carrying out the procedure at home stressful.
Source: Press release (DoH)

The NHS has ordered hospitals throughout England to stop using cheap brands of chicken for its patients after a consignment adulterated with water and animal proteins was found in the kitchen of Luton and Dunstable hospital. The meat came from a Dutch processor. The wholesaler who supplied the chicken said, ‘It’s sod’s law. We don’t usually use chicken from Holland, but we’d run short and bought this.’
Source: Guardian 8th October

Recent research supports the theory that ‘E numbers’ in popular snacks can cause hyperactivity and tantrums in young children. Scientists from the Food Commission analysed the effects of five different additives, commonly found in popular crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks, on 277 three-year-olds from the Isle of Wight. The additives were given to children in a single drink, although the doses were similar to levels found in common foods. Many parents reported significant changes in behaviour. However, the British Nutrition Foundation said the evidence was ‘quite sketchy’ and did not support removing the additives from food. A spokeswoman suggested that parents who were concerned could choose alternative food or drinks that did not contain additives.
Source: BBC Online

Women who take birth control pills for years actually improve their future ability to conceive, according to a British Study. Researchers at Brunel University in Uxbridge, Middlesex, asked over eight thousand women to complete questionnaires. They inquired, among other things, about the women’s contraceptive pill use and how long it took them to conceive. They found that even when they allowed for other factors such as age, smoking and drinking, women who used to take the Pill conceived more quickly.
Source: New Scientist 12th October

A Coventry GP has been suspended for six months by the General Medical Council. Dr Jarnail Singh was charged with encouraging and participating in the trade of human organs from live donors – a practice that is banned in the UK. Two undercover journalists approached Dr Singh for advice about how to arrange a live donor transplant. The doctor told them that he had helped others in a similar situation and told them it would cost £3,000 to secure an organ from a living donor. Some weeks ago a London GP, Dr Bhagat Singh Makkar, was struck off the medical register after boasting to a reporter that he could organise a kidney transplant in the UK or abroad for a fee.
Source: BBC Online

Trials of a drug to treat rheumatoid arthritis have shown significant improvements in three quarters of patients. Initial results of tests on the drug rituximab found that more than fifty per cent of patients in the trial showed ‘major improvements’ and a further twenty-three per cent demonstrated a ‘brilliant response’. More than 350,000 people in Britain are affected by the disease. Presenting the findings to an American College of Rheumatology in the US, Professor Jo Edwards, from University College, London, said, ‘An arthritis cure is now firmly on the agenda. This study proves the scientific validity of the benefits of rituximab to rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.’
Source: The Times 27th October

A report by the Consumers’ Association (CA) has found poor standards at private clinics offering plastic surgery in the UK. It is estimated around 65,000–75,000 cosmetic surgery procedures are carried out each year in the UK. But the service is not properly regulated – despite a new government system of regulation for private healthcare. The CA publication Health Which? sent two actors with hidden recording equipment to twenty-one private cosmetic surgery clinics. They found clinics agreeing to unsuitable surgery and failing to provide adequate information about the risks involved. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, together with other surgical organisations, says the public is still at risk from unqualified practitioners. No recognised standard of training for cosmetic surgery exists, though it is hoped with the establishment of the Cosmetic Surgery Interspeciality Committee this will change. Ros Gray, of the National Care Standards Commission set up to regulate private medicine, said that new national standards would help to tackle the problems.
Source: BBC Online

In early October there was a hark-back to the days before the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stopped schoolchildren having free milk. Thousands of children were given free milk for a week, to mark National School Milk Week. The milk companies wanted to highlight that primary schools can buy subsidised milk, but only sixteen per cent in England do so at present.
Source: Guardian 7th October

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence has been accused of restricting the use of a treatment that can save the sight of thousands of people. The Royal National Institute for the Blind is calling for a treatment for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of blindness in the UK – to be made widely available. AMD affects around 50,000 people in the UK, and an estimated 100 people who could have benefited from treatment go blind every week. Although a consultation document on the treatment has been published NICE has not yet made any recommendations, nor issued any guidance to the NHS.
Source: BBC Online

A consultation document has been issued as part of the government’s commitment to tackle the problems associated with alcohol misuse. The document outlines areas for investigation, invites comments on them, and seeks suggestions about other areas that the project should be looking at. The project is sponsored by Hazel Blears, parliamentary under secretary of state for public health. She said, ‘The large majority of people who drink, do so without causing themselves or others harm. This project focuses on the harm that can be caused by excessive drinking. The NHS Plan said that the Department of Health would be implementing a National Alcohol Strategy by 2004, and we are on course to achieve that target.’

A report, 100% Proof, by Alcohol Concern, published recently, called for more research into drinking problems in Britain. The Report shows that more than one million pensioners are drinking too much alcohol, with a seventy-five per cent increase in the problem among women over sixty-five during the past ten years.
Source: Press release (DoH), Guardian 7th October

Caterers have been warned against selling food containing raw eggs after two men died and more than 150 people fell ill from an unusual strain of the Salmonella bacterium, which causes food poisoning. Several other people, including children, needed hospital treatment in outbreaks in London and north-west England. The men were among fifty-three victims of the bacteria in Cheshire, where a bakery which used uncooked eggs, rather than the pasteurised alternative, is being investigated by health officials from the Food standards agency. The outbreak in London led the agency to investigate another bakery in Victoria. The size of the outbreaks is causing concern as only 393 cases of food poisoning in England and Wales were caused by this strain last year.
Source: Guardian 17th October

Millions of doses of the smallpox vaccine are to be stockpiled by the government to prepare for mass vaccination in the event of a bio-terrorist attack. The Department of Health said that while there was no evidence of a specific threat it was carrying out ‘intensive planning’ just in case. Key health workers, including doctors and nurses, will be the first to be offered the vaccine as they will be caring for those taken ill in an outbreak. Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer, said a mass vaccination programme would only be considered if there were a number of outbreaks.
Source: BBC Online

Health Minister, Lord Philip Hunt has announced the review of the maximum price scheme for generic medicines (those without a brand name) used in NHS primary care. Lord Hunt said the government proposed to roll forward the scheme, unchanged, pending decisions on long-term future arrangements. He said the scheme, introduced in August 2000, had restored stability in the generics market and the NHS had saved some £330 million annually as a result. The consultation ends on the 29th November 2002.
Source: Press release (DoH)

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