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NHS news in brief

Our weekly round of NHS and healthcare stories

Doctors have slammed key NHS reforms at a British Medical Association (BMA) conference, arguing that they are damaging patient care. Delegates backed a number of flagship policies, such as patient choice and funding structures, and called for an independent review into the impact of NHS targets. Doctors voted to oppose payment by results, a system many believe is ìfundamentally flawedî because it looks at the volume of patients treated but does not take into account the quality of treatment, or the complexity of illness. BMA chairman, James Johnson, has urged the government to involve doctors in reforms where patients would benefit.

Hewitt: Speed up cancer treatment

Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, has told NHS bosses that ìa great deal more needs to be doneî to reduce the amount of time taken to treat cancer patients and hit NHS targets. The 2000 Cancer Plan pledged that patients would have to wait just two months from referral to treatment, and a month from diagnosis to treatment, by December this year. However, progress has been slow and exacerbated by long waits for lab tests and scan results ñ a problem NHS Confederation chief executive, Gill Morgan, believes can be alleviated by increased use of the private sector. Speaking to a national cancer taskforce in London, she urged bosses to show more focus in the next six months to reach the two-month goal. ìWe are better at preventing cancer, better at detecting cancer, better at treating and curing cancer, and better at caring for patients with cancer. However, I am in no doubt that more needs to be done,î Hewitt said.

Patients not interested in choice

Patient choice may be at the heart of the governmentís plans for the NHS, but it is the area of least interest to patients, according to a poll carried out by the British Medical Association (BMA). The poll of 2,000 people revealed that patients are more interested in cleanliness, better A&E departments and short waiting times for outpatients, rather than being offered a choice of where they receive treatment. The increasing incidence of MRSA has put cleanliness at the top of most patientsí list of priorities, according to the survey. The BMA has said before that patients are not interested in choice and chairman of the BMA, James Johnson, believes that outside metropolitan areas a choice of five hospitals is ìutterly meaninglessî. In some areas, he added, there will only be a choice of two or three, let alone five.

Sick days

Hospital nurses take more days off sick than any other public sector workers, according to figures published in a Healthcare Commission report. On average, hospital nurses take 16.8 sick days a year, compared with an average of 11.3 days across other public service areas, including the police, prison service, civil service and teaching. Anna Walker, chief executive of the commission, said the high rates of absence are ìextremely worryingî and that nurses were far too important for the problem to be ignored. The survey covered 135,000 staff in 6,000 hospital wards across England. The Healthcare Commission estimates that sick days are costing the NHS £470m a year. The survey also found that patient dissatisfaction was linked strongly to the high numbers of agency and bank nurses in hospitals.

Cultural care study

A study has been launched to improve the care of terminally ill Sikh and Muslim patients. Professor Aziz Sheikh, from Edinburgh University, will ask patients and carers about end-of-life needs. He believes that palliative care services are focused on the elderly dying from cancer and he is concerned that there are not ìeffective provisionsî for training healthcare professionals in transcultural medicine and limited opportunities for them to learn about death rites in different cultures. Prof Sheikh plans to recruit 25 terminally ill patients from Sikh and Muslim communities with the help of GPs. The Chief Scientists Office is funding the study.

30th September 2008

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