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3 Key Medical News Stories: 21st February 2019

medical news

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:  long A & E waiting times, sepsis testing and gene therapy.

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A&E Waiting Times

A&E waiting times in England reach their worst levels since 2004.

In 2004, the Department of Health introduced the ‘four hour target’ for A&E departments, which means 95% of patients in A&E should be seen and treated within four hours of attendance.

However, recent medical news shows that during January 2019, only 84.4% of patients were treated or admitted within the four-hour target. This means that nearly 330,000 patients waited longer for care than they should have.

The figures demonstrate the relentless pressure that the NHS is under, particularly during the winter months. Many hospitals see overwhelming numbers of patients, with many intensive care units full to capacity.

What can we learn from this?

There are many factors that could be responsible for the increased waiting times. They include inappropriate use of services, lack of beds, under-staffing and under-funding of both health and social care services.

There is a concern that although the targets initially aimed to improve patient care, they may be having the opposite effect. The pressure to meet targets can lead to rushed, depersonalised care for patients and low morale among staff.

Question to think about- Why do you think A&E waiting times are rising?

Read: NHS Hot Topics – A&E Waiting Times


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Sepsis Testing

Researchers have developed a new test for earlier diagnosis of sepsis

Sepsis is a life-threatening complication of infection, causing 52,000 fatalities in the UK every year according to latest figures in the medical news. Sepsis is the process of the immune system attacking the body’s own organs. It is notoriously difficult to diagnose, commonly presenting as the flu or gastroenteritis.

For every hour that sepsis goes undiagnosed and left untreated, the risk of mortality increases. Early detection is key to survival and delays lead to fatalities.

The new test is a microelectrode device that analyses blood and provides results in two-and-a-half minutes. It detects a protein called interleukin-6 (IL-6), which is one of the best biomarkers of sepsis in the blood.

The current test for sepsis takes 72 hours and is a labour-intensive process. The new low-cost, rapid test is likely to be a part of everyday use within 5 years, with potential in A&E and GP settings.

What can we learn from this?

Earlier detection means quicker treatments and therefore a greater chance of survival, so the new test has a huge potential to save thousands of lives.

As sepsis can present as a ‘routine’ illness like the flu, teamwork and robust documentation is required in order to spot a patient’s health deteriorating.

There are several warning signs, called ‘sepsis red flags’, which should trigger a suspicion of sepsis. These include acute confusion, low blood pressure, high heart and breathing rates, and a non-blanching rash.

Question to think about- Describe how teamwork is important in delivering patient care, especially in the context of sepsis.

Read: Teamwork Questions

Gene Therapy

Gene therapy trial aims to halt the most common form of blindness.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common form of blindness in the Western world, affecting 600,000 people in the UK.

In some significant medical news, surgeons have attempted gene therapy (a treatment that targets the underlying genetic causes of the disease) to treat this illness for the first time. 

The treatment involves an injection into the back of the eye. The injection targets the cells of the retina, delivering a harmless virus containing a synthetic gene. When the virus infects the cells, the gene is released and the eye is able to make proteins that stop the cells from dying.

As this treatment is still in the early stages, with initial trials designed to ensure safety of the procedure. However, gene therapy has been successful for other rare eye disorders, so there is hope this treatment will be life changing for AMD patients.

What can we learn from this?

AMD is a condition that affects the back of the eye and leads to central vision loss. The vision loss is debilitating, as patients struggle to recognise faces, read and carry out daily activities.

There are two types of AMD, wet and dry. Both have very limited treatments and there isn’t a cure. This treatment is a source of hope for both clinicians and patients, as it is the first therapy to target the genetic causes of AMD.

Question to think about- How do you think AMD would impact on a person’s life? How would you adapt when delivering care to someone with a visual impairment?

Read: Answering empathy questions

Words: Katie Burrell

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