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3 Key Medical News Stories: 10th April 2019

Working memory

Welcome to this week’s medical news round up! In our latest edition, we bring you the healthcare topics that have been under the microscope over the past week, just in time for your med school applications. 

Joining us this week: brain stimulation, the Bawa-Garba case and ‘greener’ inhalers.

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Brain Stimulation

Electrically stimulating the brain can boost memory.

The news follows a study at Boston University, which found that stimulating the brain with electricity gave those in their sixties and seventies the working memory of someone in their twenties.

Working memory refers to the temporary information that your mind holds, such as when writing down a phone number as it is being read to you, or making a decision. Working memory declines naturally with age.

The research focuses on brain waves within the temporal and prefrontal brain regions, both of which are involved in working memory. The study showed the brainwaves ‘become out of sync’ as we age and lead to disjointed thought processes. Electrical stimulation appeared to strengthen and ‘resynchronize’ the brain waves.

The question now is: is this new discovery applicable to real life and does it hold hope for potential dementia treatment in the future?

What can we learn from this?

This is an extremely exciting area of research with a lot of potential. The population both in the UK and globally is ageing exponentially, meaning health care also needs to advance in order to adapt.

It is hoped this new technology can help with the decreased working memory associated with ageing and brain disorders such as dementia and autism.

However, it is uncertain how practical this technology is. To be applicable to real life it would need long-term benefits or a way of making it portable.

Question to think about: what is your understanding of the ageing population and the issues it brings?

Read: NHS Hot Topics – Ageing Population

The Bawa-Garba case

A medical tribunal has ruled Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba can return to work.

The headline follows the high profile case of Dr Bawa-Garba, who was found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter over the death of Jack Adcock, a six-year-old-boy.  

Jack had Down’s syndrome and a heart condition. He died from a cardiac arrest caused by sepsis just 11 hours after hospital admission. Dr Bawa-Garba has accepted she made mistakes, including failure to recognise sepsis. However, there were also major failings in the system and conditions she was working in.

Dr Bawa-Garba was first suspended and then struck off from the GMC medical register in 2018, preventing her from working as a doctor.

There was a huge public outcry over concerns that the conditions she was working in were not fully considered by the court. Now the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service has ruled Dr Bawa-Garba can return to work, whilst under close supervision and at a lower training stage.

What can we learn from this?

This is a high profile case, highlighting the pressures the NHS is under and the impact of this on the staff, which in this case devastatingly resulted in the passing of Jack Adcock.

This case is controversial as there were mistakes made by Dr Bawa-Garba that ultimately led to this tragic event. On the other hand, the system was not sufficiently staffed (she was carrying out the work of two doctors), she did not have a senior consultant available and the computer systems failed in regards to blood tests and x-rays. Therefore, the failings of the system are also arguably responsible for this case.

One of the aims of allowing Dr Bawa-Garba to return to work is to lessen the blame culture in the NHS. There is a fear that if the culture of blame in the NHS is left to fester, patient safety will suffer due to staff being scared to come forward about their mistakes.

Question to think about: what can we learn from the Bawa-Garba case?

Read: The Bawa-Garba Case

‘Greener’ Inhalers

Asthma patients encouraged to use ‘greener’ inhalers.

Latest news reveals 70% of inhalers in the UK have high levels of greenhouse gases, compared to 10% in Sweden.

This follows the recent 10-year NHS plan that recommends more attention is given to environmentally friendly approaches within the NHS.

As a response, for the first time The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have released guidance that specifically addresses the carbon footprint of medicine.

NICE say that the ‘environmentally-friendly’ dry powder inhalers contain 25 times less pollutants, and although not everyone can use them, more people could.

What can we learn from this?

The new NHS plan maps out the next 10 years for the health care service, with focuses on primary care and mental health, as well as becoming more eco-friendly.

More than five million people use inhalers across the UK, with some inhalers equating to 500g of carbon dioxide per dose.

Ensuring there is less air pollution and cutting carbon emissions is good for everyone, but especially those with respiratory conditions.

Question to think about: what is your understanding of the NHS 10 year plan?

Read: NHS Hot Topics – Funding

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