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Three Key Medical News Stories: 10th October 2019

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.

Joining us this week: HIV, mental health and surgery.

HIV

Fifteen people test HIV positive whilst waiting for preventative medication.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a tablet taken daily to prevent people acquiring HIV. The PrEP trial in England began in October 2017 and currently has 13,000 spaces. However, this does not meet the demand and many eligible patients are on long waiting lists.

Recent news highlights 15 cases of people who were HIV negative when first assessed for PrEP, and have now acquired HIV whilst on the NHS waiting list. PrEP can be accessed privately, but several people out of the 15 cases were on low incomes and could not afford this.

England is the only place in the UK to restrict spaces for drugs on the NHS. PrEP is free for all high-risk patients in Scotland and now there is a call for England to follow suit.

What can we learn from this?

Management of HIV has improved rapidly over the years/ Antiretroviral drugs have helped many people to live linger with HIV and have transformed the prognosis of the disease. PrEP is the new groundbreaking drug that can prevent people from acquiring HIV in the first place.

With HIV considered a death sentence less than 20 years ago, it is extremely impressive to see these medical advances. Socially and culturally, HIV is still often a stigmatised disease, and unfortunately, the progress in society’s understanding of HIV has perhaps not been as steep!

Question to think about: Consider the impact of a HIV diagnosis and the role of PrEP/antiretroviral medication.

Read Empathy Questions

Mental Health

High demand for mental health website after a new public health initiative.

Every Mind Matters is a website aiming to help people look after their mental health. The website is part of an initiative run by Public Health England and the NHS.

The Duke and and Duchess of Cambridge and Duke and Duchess of Sussex support the initiative, and released a promotional video on TV this week to support the cause and website. The website received such a surge in traffic that it struggled to cope, and temporarily crashed.

Every Mind Matters allows access to free online plans that aim to help  improve stress, mood, sleep and feeling in control.

What can we learn from this?

Mental health is an increasingly big issue. From anxiety and depression, to eating disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar effective disorder and many more, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem every year.

However, the mental health services are under more pressure than ever. With an increase in demand but huge staffing and funding concerns, initiatives like these are vitally important.

Question to think about: What are the current issues with the mental services.

Read NHS Hot Topics – Mental Health

Surgery

Patients will need to lose more weight before non-urgent surgery

East Riding of Yorkshire has recently announced that their required BMI for non-urgent surgery will lower from 35 to 30.

Obese patients (a BMI of 30 or above) are offered a six-month weight-loss programme before their surgery. The programme, named ‘Get Fit for Your Operation’ has had more than 750 people sign up and 60% of them completing it.

After the six-months, patients are eligible for referral to surgery regardless of any weight loss, as long as they have been supported to access the programme. Other CCGs, including York, Bath and Hertfordshire have set similar targets for their patients.

What can we learn from this?

BMI (Body Mass Index) is a popular and widely used tool to assess weight. However, it is also controversial and has several flaws.

62% of CCGs in England restrict surgery based on BMI. Although at face value encouraging patients to lose weight appears sensible, it can also be problematic.

Firstly, since there is no nationally followed BMI score to use as a target, health inequality questions come into play. Inconsistencies mean that one person with a BMI of 33 is granted timely access to surgery in one area of the country, but another in a different area, such as York, is asked to wait six months and join a weight loss programme. Dilemmas like this can also be referred to as the ‘postcode lottery’.

Prolonged wait-times for surgery mean more pain, more medication, a decreased quality of life and other socio-economic consequences.

Question to think about: Do the benefits of weight loss outweigh the consequences of prolonged waits for surgery?

Read Challenges Facing the NHS

Words: Katie Burrell

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