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NHS news in brief

Our weekly round of NHS and healthcare stories

Generics UK pays up

Generics UK, the British subsidiary of German drug firm Merck KGaA, has reached a £12m out-of-court settlement with the Department of Health following claims that it played a role in an alleged price and supply fixing cartel, involving antibiotics and a generic version of Zantac. The settlement comes three months after Indian generics manufacturer Ranbaxy reached a similar deal with the Department of Health. In both cases, there was no admission of liability and a promise to co-operate in lawsuits bought against the remaining alleged cartel members.

Making demands

Foundations Trusts are demanding the right to treat more private patients, a move which has sparked a political row and could damage Labour's attempt to reduce the number of private patients. The Conservatives have backed the call from the Foundation Trust Network but health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, rejected the demands. Trusts have their private patient income capped at the percentage they were earning when they gained Foundation status. However, the Foundation Trust Network now wants this cap lifted, a move former health secretary, Frank Dobson has labelled a ìdirect contradiction to the promise Alan Milburn made to parliamentî which implied that the number of private patients would be reduced. The Department of Health has stated that the current caps are ìnot negotiableî.

Time wasters

Almost half the operating hours at the UK's 300 day surgery units are not being used effectively due to poor management, according to the National Health Service inspectorate, the Healthcare Commission. NHS Trusts plan to use theatres for around 30 hours, however, cancellations incomplete operating lists and excessive gaps between patients mean that, on average, they are used for just 16 hours a week. The Commission said the key cause was a lack of clear responsibility for managing units. Almost 40 per cent of units did not have a nominated consultant in charge, while another 40 per cent of units showed a lack of clear management responsibility.

MMR jabs for students

Around 90,000 new university students will be advised to have the MMR jab before starting their courses in an attempt to control a mumps epidemic sweeping across campuses in the UK. Mumps has affected more than 42,700 people in England and Wales during the first six months of this year. All prospective students will be advised to be fully vaccinated against a number of other serious diseases too when their place is confirmed.

Healthcare disparities

An independent report has highlighted disparities in the performance of the NHS across the UK. The Nuffield Trust revealed a growing health gap between rich and poor and an increase in MRSA. It also showed that patients in Wales and Northern Ireland wait longer for operations than those in England and Scotland. According to figures, in September 2004, 7 per cent of patients in Scotland and 9 per cent of patients in England had waited for more than six months for an operation. In Wales the figures was 36 per cent.

30th September 2008

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