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3 Key Medical News Stories: 13th June 2019

A heap of medical pills still in its packaging

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: genome sequencing, postcode lottery and drug shortages.

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Genome Sequencing

Genome sequencing is a revolution for diagnoses of rare childhood conditions

Latest news reports that all seriously ill children in England with an unexplained condition will be eligible for genome analysis.

The news follows a recent project at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Cambridge University, which found one in four children in intensive care had a genetic disorder.

Genome analysis involves mapping a person’s entire genetic code, allowing for identification of gene faults and possible diagnoses.

This successful project will be a template for the NHS Genomic Medicine Service, which will begin across England in 2020.

What can we learn from this?

Our understanding of genetics and genomics has rapidly expanded over a short amount of time.

For example, five years of hard work led to the completion of the Genome Project in December 2018, which hit its goal of sequencing 100,000 whole genomes.

Now, the sequencing of genomes will be available on the NHS for poorly children, with results being made available within weeks. This will mean that families will receive a more rapid diagnosis and patients will receive more appropriate treatments and less invasive tests.

Question to think about: How would a diagnosis of a genetic condition impact on patients and families?

Read: Empathy Questions

Postcode Lottery

Children face a ‘postcode lottery’ when in need of speech and language therapy

A recent report claims that the variation of funding for paediatric speech and language therapy across England leaves children facing a postcode lottery.

It states that in the top 25% of areas, there is a minimum spend of 291.65 per year for children with these needs. In the lowest 25%, this drops to just £30.94 or less.

Almost 200,000 children require support with their speech, language and communication.

The NHS Long Term Plan is working towards improved child and youth services, including speech and language therapy. There is an acknowledgement of the importance of support for this area, as it can give children in need the best possible start in life.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said “We are working to improve support for children and young people, including how to ensure we have the right numbers of speech and language therapists to meet demand.”

What can we learn from this?

The ‘postcode lottery’ is a colloquial term that describes the distinct variation of funding for various health services across the country. Recent new focuses on speech and language therapy, but previously it has applied to mental health services, social care and overall care systems.

In practical terms, this means that the difference between a person who can access better quality health care and a person who cannot may be purely down to their geographical location. For example, London spends £7.29 per child compared to the East Midlands, who spend 34p per child.

This, rightly, sparks a lot of debate about the ethical dilemmas surrounding access to and the quality of healthcare by region.

Question to think about: Can you explain if you understand what is meant by the postcode lottery. What do you think could be done to tackle this issue?

Read: NHS Funding

Drug Shortages

Drug shortages are increasing pressure on the NHS and endangering lives

Recent drug shortages have led to frustration and worry for those within both primary and secondary care.

The shortages present major challenges to NHS staff, from patient safety to the increased workload of finding pharmacies for stock.

Although this problem spreads across Europe, the shortages are particularly severe in the UK, with 60% of hospital pharmacies reporting shortages.

EpiPen has previously hit headlines, as patients are now using the life-saving drug for up to four months after its expiry date, in response to severe shortages.

Those working in healthcare now face the issue of finding alternatives or using distant pharmacies for the medications that keep patients pain-free or even alive.

What can we learn from this?

Recent fears surrounding Brexit and shortages has led to this topic frequently hitting headlines. The reason for shortages appears to be multifactorial.

Just a few of the contributors to this problem include the stockpiling of medications, manufacturers prioritising more appealing markets overseas and new regulations which slow down the manufacturing process.

Drug shortages increase the workload and pressure on NHS resources, as well as present a huge patient safety concern.

Question to think about: What challenges do drug shortages present to the health service?

Read: Ethical Questions

Words: Katie Burrell

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