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NHS news in brief

Our weekly round up of NHS and healthcare stories.

Hep' B jabs for kids

All children in the UK should be immunised against the hepatitis B virus, according to the British Medical Association (BMA). Currently, only those at high risk of infection are vaccinated, but the BMA believes that widespread immunisation would save lives and be more cost-effective than treating liver failure and cancer caused by the virus. Dr Sam Everington, deputy chairman of the BMA said that hepatitis B rates were rising and warned that the disease could become 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV. There was a 135 per cent increase in the disease between 1992 (489) and 2003 (1151). While the vaccine is safe, Everington believes the ongoing debate over the safety of the MMR vaccine means parents are nervous about immunising their children against hepatitis B. An expert committee for the Department of Health is reviewing the current hepatitis B vaccination policy.

Rise to the challenge

The new Secretary of State for Health, Patricia Hewitt, faces challenges that are likely to outstrip those she suffered in her final days at the DTI following the closure of Rover if the government pushes through the market-based changes it has planned for the NHS. Over the next 12 to 18 months, some hospitals are likely to struggle with potential financial failure and the closure of some services, as the full impact of patient choice takes effect. However, before she can tackle this, she will need to implement existing policies, such as awarding contracts promised to the private sector. In addition, Hewitt will have to address a whole raft of issues outlined to her in a letter from the British Medical Association, which is upbeat about forming a constructive and positive way of working with the government and flags up areas that the BMA believes are a priority. Topping the list are involving doctors, healthcare professionals and patients in health policy and reforms, and a ban on smoking in enclosed public areas.

No NI increase to fund NHS

Tony Blair has given his clearest indication yet that Labour will not raise National Insurance (NI) contributions to fund a boost in healthcare spending before 2010. The Prime Minister said that the £8bn annual increase in NI introduced in 2002 would take care of the “catch-up” needed in the NHS. The increase came into effect following a report from Sir Derek Wanless, which set out how the UK should keep up with the European average on health spending. NHS spending has increased at an average of 7.4 per cent, in real terms, since 2002, but this is expected to slow after 2008. The Department of Health wants a 6 per cent increase in real terms after 2008 to cope with advances in medical technology and higher expectations.

Out of hours to the extreme

A GP pocketed more than £500,000 over seven years by making unnecessarily late “emergency” home visits. Dr Jagdeep Gossain, who made £160,000 in one year, restricted his daytime work to an hour every morning and afternoon to allow for the number of late visits. He faces charges of serious misconduct over his NHS claims between May 1990 and April 1998 and could be struck off if found guilty.

Fewer self-pay patients

NHS Trusts have not seen any growth in their income from private patients in the last 12 months, as the longest waits for treatment have reduced, according to analysts Laing and Buisson. As a result of quicker service, fewer patients are prepared to pay for care out of their own pocket. Total income from private patients in 2003/04 increased by just £11m to £397m and the absence of any significant growth was almost entirely due to fewer self-pay patients.

You say Dr, I say Mr

The Royal College of Surgeons has called for an end to the 150-year old convention of calling surgeons `Mr' or `Miss' in favour of `Dr' like their physician colleagues. The surgeons' title is confusing to patients and will become even more so as the number of different healthcare professionals increases, according to the college. British convention, which began in the Middle Ages when physicians went to university and surgeons worked with barbers and were apprenticed, is not followed in Europe or the US.

30th September 2008

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