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Three Key Medical News Stories: 17th October 2019

NHS Waiting Room

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: waiting times, head injuries and snacking ban.

Waiting times

Summer 2019 the worst for A&E waiting times in England since the introduction of targets

Recent statistics show that between March and September this year, an average of 86% of patients received an admission, transfer or discharge within the four-hour A&E target.  

This is the worst performance since the introduction of the A&E target in 2004. Official’s state that this summer has been the busiest ever for the NHS, with half a million more visits to A&E than this time last year.  

Typically, waiting times increase over the winter months and recover over summer, with an average of 90% of patients seen within 4 hours during summer.  Nuffield Trust’s Helen Buckingham says that the NHS ‘historically used the summer to catch its breath’. This year this has been more difficult to do and there is a major concern as we move in to winter, notoriously the toughest months for the health service. 

What can we learn from this?

The four-hour A&E target initially had the vision of reducing A&E waiting times. The target is for 95% of patients attending A&E to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.

NHS England Trusts frequently miss the target and waiting times are a common cause of complaints and distress for patients. The use of the target itself is controversial and it is currently under review due to concerns that it distorts priorities. 

Pilots for new targets will take place this year, which include starting care for patients with heart attacks, acute asthma, sepsis and stroke within one hour. 

Question to think about: What are the advantages and disadvantages of targets for waiting times?

Read: NHS Hot Topics – A&E Waiting Times

Head injuries

A widely available drug could save 100,000s of lives globally each year

Latest medical news highlights that a cheap and common drug could save many lives if given routinely to those with head injuries. 

Tranexamic acid is a drug that helps to stop bleeding and is already in use for patients with life-threatening bleeds from the chest and abdomen, as well as for women with large bleeds after childbirth. 

Now a large international study suggests the drug could improve survival rates for those with head injuries by stopping bleeding in and around the brain. 

The drug appears to work when administered up to three hours after the injury and can prevent bleeds becoming worse, therefore increasing survival chances. 

Treating brain injuries is very difficult, so this cheap and accessible drug could provide a promising new treatment option for these patients.

What can we learn from this?

Tranexamic acid works by stopping blood clots from breaking down, therefore slowing down or stopping bleeds. 

The drug has lots of potential to help brain injuries of any cause for all ages and demographics. Although price varies around the world, the cost for a course of treatment in the UK would be £6.20 per patient. 

Question to think about: Discuss the challenges of NHS budgets and treatment costs

Read: NHS Hot Topics – Funding

Snack ban

Chief medical officer calls for a ban on snacking on public transport

The outgoing chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has proposed a wide range of measures to tackle child obesity. 

The measures include phasing out all advertising/sponsorship of unhealthy food and drink, free water refills at all food outlets and public sector buildings and extending the sugar tax to milk-based drinks. 

The measure that has caught the most attention is the banning of food and drink on local transport, with exceptions for water, breast-feeding and medical conditions. 

This measure is aimed at children on school commutes and only applies to local trains, buses, trams and metro networks. However, it will apply to adults too, in the hope that they will model good behaviour.  

What can we learn from this?

The ‘obesity crisis’ is frequently hitting headlines, particularly in relation to childhood obesity, as the proportion of obese and overweight children has doubled in 30 years. The government released their ‘obesity strategy’ in 2018, which aims to halve obesity rates by 2030. 

There are many ideas for interventions to tackle this problem, but some view these recent proposals as particularly radical. However, as obesity is such a huge problem with causes rooted in long-term societal and cultural norms, some say radical change is necessary.

Question to think about: What do you think are the main reasons for the obesity crisis and how would you address them? 

Read: The Sugar Tax

Words: Katie Burrell

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