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NHS news in brief

Our weekly round of NHS and healthcare stories

Limited access

Private sector involvement in the running of the NHS needs to be limited, Secretary of State for Health, Patricia Hewitt has said. The move comes just days after chairman of the British Medical Association's consultant's committee, Paul Miller attacked government central initiative of using private sector companies to treat NHS patients. However, Hewitt denies that her statement suggests the government is backing out of planned reforms. The new market, which ties hospital income increasingly to the number of patients treated, is intended to put pressure on hospitals, said Hewitt, who believes that payment by results will create instability and change, which is exactly what it is designed to do.

Ageing agents

Obesity and smoking makes people biologically older than slim non-smokers of the same age. Researchers in the UK and US found that obesity accelerated the ageing of key elements of DNA by nine years, while smoking it is 4.6 years. The study, published in the Lancet, was based on 1,122 twins all of whom were aged 18-76, 119 were clinically obese, 203 were current smokers and 369 were ex-smokers. Researchers looked at telomeres - strips of DNA that cap the end of chromosomes - which shorten each time a cell divides until there is nothing left and happens naturally with ageing. When researchers analysed blood samples for DNA, they found telomere length decreased steadily with age, as expected. However, the telomeres of obese women and smokers were far shorter than those in lean women and those who have never smoked, of the same age.

Higher priority

The Department of Health has said that mental health is a top priority along with heart disease and cancer. However, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has said that although progress is being made in the care and treatment of mental health, the issue needed to become more mainstream. The institute has called for specialists to be placed in GP surgeries, children's centres and even libraries as part of its vision for mental health in 2025. It also called for less expensive treatment to tackle common mental health problems and the establishment of walk-in centres that have a holistic approach to healthcare, both mental and physical.

Continuity of care

More than one in four women do not receive one-to-one care from a doctor or midwife when they go into labour, according to a survey by the National Childbirth Trust. Figures from the survey revealed that 27 per cent of women did not have continuous care during the birth of a child, while the remaining 73 per cent received care from a midwife, student midwife, healthcare assistant or doctor. Health minister, Liam Byrne said the government plans to offer women more choice over the kind of birth they have. He also emphasised the importance of having the same midwife before and after the birth with regard to continuity of care.

Quick reminder

Nurses will be given checklist cards for routine tasks in an attempt to stem the growing incidences of hospital-acquired infections. According to the Nursing Standard there will be a step-by-step guide for procedures where there is a risk of infection. The cards, developed by Janice Nicholson, director of the Department of Health's MRSA/Cleaner Hospital programme, will each have four or five checkpoints, which if adhered to should reduce infection rates.

30th September 2008

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