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NHS News in brief

Our weekly round of NHS and healthcare stories

Too clean for comfort

The number of people with allergies in the UK is expected to increase because childrens' immune systems are not developing properly thanks to our houses being `too clean', according to a healthcare expert. Professor Aziz Sheikh, of Edinburgh University, has claimed that one in two people will need drugs for some type of allergic disorder by 2007.

With allergy treatment already accounting for 6 per cent of all GP consultations and 10 per cent of prescribing budgets, the forecast increase would put an enormous strain on the health system. Prof Sheikh blamed what he called the ìhygiene hypothesisî for the increase. While he admitted that the cause of the dramatic increase remains ìunclearî, he pointed to a possible link to improved living standards, which reduces the chances of infection, and hence drives a rise in allergies.

Call times questioned

The way ambulance trusts in England calculate 999 call response times varies dramatically across the country, according to evidence unearthed by the BBC. News that many trusts do not begin timing responses until minutes after receiving a call, has called into question the accuracy of figures seemingly indicating that ambulance trusts have hit government targets on response times. The latest figures suggest that 26 out of 31 trusts in England have hit or surpassed government targets. However, they fail to take into account the fact that ambulance trusts are measuring these times from different starting points.

Some ambulance trusts do not start the clock until 1min 30s-to-2mins after receiving a 999 call, the BBC investigation discovered. There is also a discrepancy among trusts as to what they term a `life-threatening emergency'.

Poor provision for special needs

Children with special needs are missing out on much-needed help because the Department of Health will not allow the education department to spend money in this area, according to a senior parliamentary body. According to a joint group of MPs and members of the House of Lords, the divide between health practitioners who make the diagnosis and education officials who provide classroom support, undermines the current system.

While the inquiry's report criticises the Department for Education and Skills saying that it needs to ìtake a fresh look at the specials needs systemî, it reserves its most severe criticism for the way in which the Department of Health tries to save money for other departments. `It would appear that the Department of Health practitioners are unwilling to prescribe precise clinical provision for any one child, despite the statutory requirement that this should be ìquantified detailed and specificî, as they do not wish to place the Department of Education in a situation where they may be unable to provide the specific care outlinedÖ'

30th September 2008

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