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NHS news in brief

Our weekly round of NHS and healthcare stories.

Healthcare staff register

The Health Professionals Council (HPC) is launching a crackdown on bogus healthcare professionals in an attempt to alert the public that medical staff are not always what they seem. From July, patients will be able check the credentials of a variety of health workers including chiropodists, dieticians, paramedics, physiotherapists and radiographers. Healthcare professionals using a title regulated by the HPC will have to register with the council from July 8 and will face tough penalties if their standards slip. More than 150,000 staff will be listed on the register, designed to increase public confidence in healthcare professionals.

Further infection scare

Health officials are closely monitoring a new strain of hospital infection that has been linked to the deaths of 12 patients at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. The hospital, a national centre for spinal injury, has reported 300 incidences of Clostridium difficile in the last 18 months and 12 cases where the infection has been described as the “actual or probable” cause of death. The Health Protection Agency is now trying to identify whether the virulent strain of bacterial infection is C. difficile 027, which has been confirmed as the cause of infections in the US and Canada. C. difficile is the most common cause of hospital-acquired infection and most people recover from it; however, elderly people who have been on extended courses of antibiotics are more at risk.

Separately, the infection control team at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust are looking at the possibility that bibles kept in patients' lockers on hospital wards are contributing to the spread of MRSA.

Hospital job ads `misleading'

Doctors from overseas are being misled when they apply for posts in the UK, according to Mohib Khan, chairman of the BMA's Staff and Associate Specialists (SAS) Committee. Khan, speaking at the BMA's conference of SAS doctors, criticised hospitals for employing too many doctors in `non-standard' jobs, which do not carry the same rights as nationally recognised posts and do not provide training. The majority of these posts are said to be filled by overseas doctors who think they are applying for a standard training post that offers protection from working extremely long hours. Research from the BMA suggests that more than one-fifth of vacancies for non-consultant hospital jobs are for non-standard posts. The report, which looked at 2,160 jobs advertised in four randomly selected issues of the British Medical Journal in 2005, found that many were misleading.

NICE heart guidance flawed

Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) on the use of aspirin in patients with ischaemic heart disease has been called into question. Cathie Sudlow, senior lecturer and honorary consultant neurologist at the University of Edinburgh and one of the experts who formulated the report used by NICE to develop the guidance, said that the guidance is based on findings from around 3,000 participants - a trial group which she believes is too small to justify a blanket recommendation.

Condom tax

Government ministers in the UK are in talks with the Treasury to drop VAT on condoms making safer sex more affordable. Around 30p from £1.99 pack of three condoms goes to the Treasury and campaigners have been calling for the levy to be dropped since some GPs have stopped giving out free condoms. The Treasury sees condoms as “luxury” items and therefore they incur the highest rate of tax. The chancellor has the option of reducing the tax on condoms to 5 per cent but dropping VAT altogether would require a new EU directive. Talks with the EU about items that should be eligible for zero rates of VAT are expected later this year.

30th September 2008

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