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Three Key Medical News Stories: 14th November 2019

Welcome to this week’s medical news stories. In our latest edition, we bring you the healthcare topics that have been under the microscope over the past week.

Joining us this week: Cannabis, the general election and genome testing.

Cannabis

A national medical cannabis registry has been launched for the UK to build up an evidence base.

The law changed in November 2018, allowing specialist doctors to prescribe cannabis medicines. Two cannabis-based medicines, used to treat epilepsy (Epidyolex) and multiple sclerosis (Saltivex), have been approved for use by the NHS in England.

However, a year after being made legal only a handful of patients have been able to access prescriptions, many doctors have been reluctant to prescribe cannabis based products due to a lack of evidence about their safety and efficacy.

What can we learn from this?

The independent scientific body, Drug Science, has set up project Twenty21 and aims to enrol up to 20,000 patients by the end of 2021. This medical cannabis registry has been launched in the UK in order to build up a body of evidence on the safety and efficacy of cannabis based drugs to support their prescription on the NHS.

Question to think about: Why might the launch of the medical cannabis registry enable potentially useful cannabis medicines to be prescribed to more patients?

General Election

Conservatives have said they will deliver 6,000 more GPs in England by 2024-25 to increase patient appointments, if they win the election.

Prior to the start of the UK electoral campaigning, NHS leaders called on politicians not to use the NHS as a “political football”. Within an already heated early election, the NHS has become one of the key playing pieces for political parties to secure votes from the public.

Labour immediately released results of a freedom of information request showing a big increase in the number of cancelled operations during the conservative ‘reign’, whilst also stating that they want to expand GP training places from 3,500 to 5,000 a year to ease the burden on GPs.

What can we learn from this?

Choosing a political party to vote for in the general election can be difficult, especially with the campaigns making big claims about important things like the NHS. Claims lacking detail and providing no firm commitments may provide cause for even more trepidation.

The implications for the NHS after the election may be huge given that the election will have a large impact on how Brexit goes ahead. It is important to do your own research into the individual campaigns and how they may impact on some of the main issues that the NHS faces.

Question to think about: Do you think the NHS should be used as a campaigning tool by the political parties in the general election?

Genome Testing

The health secretary recently announced plans to enable DNA testing of healthy babies at birth.

Genomics England is working with the NHS to launch a pilot project next year enabling the genomic testing of children at birth. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said that the NHS will be offering tests to the parents of newly born children to identify inherited diseases and whether they are at high-risk of developing certain conditions later in life.

The test will detect diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and epilepsy, as well as revealing increased risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart disease, and the results will be placed on children’s medical records.

Currently, patients are only offered genetic testing through the NHS if their doctor thinks they could have a health condition caused by a genetic change, if someone in their family has such a condition, if a close relative has a cancer that could be inherited, or if the person or the partner has a condition that could be passed on to their children.

What can we learn from this?

About 3,000 out of the 660,000 babies born in England and Wales each year are thought to have a treatable, early-onset disease.

Genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis can have devastating impacts on the lives of patients and families, so genetic testing to enable early diagnosis and treatment could make such conditions less debilitating.

Question to think about: What might be some of the ethical issues associated with the genome testing of healthy babies?

Words: Nea Sneddon-Jenkins

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